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Rat Study Sheds Light on How Alcohol Affects Young Brain

Rat Study Sheds Light on How Alcohol Affects Young Brain

03/17/11

THURSDAY, March 17 (HealthDay News) -- Based on the results of a new study conducted with rats, researchers say that kids who drink alcohol may have trouble with decision-making in adulthood.

Alcohol consumption during adolescence can change the perception of risk but does not affect how rewards are valued, the University of Washington researchers found.

The investigators studied decision-making in adult rats that had been given free access to alcohol when they were adolescents. The researchers measured changes in the neurotransmitter dopamine when the rats were offered rewards alone and also in response to cues predicting risky or certain outcomes.

"Dopamine is central to the way we process and evaluate rewards and is the primary target in the brain for virtually all abused drugs," study author Jeremy J. Clark, an acting assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, explained in a university news release.

In the rats, alcohol use during adolescence increased dopamine signaling to risky options but did not affect responses to rewards.

"Alcohol is corrupting the ability to make a good decision by altering the perception of risk. It doesn't appear to be about the reward," Clark said.

The study was published March 14 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study authors noted that the findings might lead to improved treatments for those with a history of substance abuse.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about underage drinking.

Copyright © 2011 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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