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Fraser Trevor Fraser Trevor Author
Title: Genetic factors appear to play a significant role in alcoholism and may account for about half of the total risk for alcoholism.
Author: Fraser Trevor
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The chemistry of alcohol allows it to affect nearly every type of cell in the body, including those in the central nervous system. After p...

The chemistry of alcohol allows it to affect nearly every type of cell in the body, including those in the central nervous system. After prolonged exposure to alcohol, the brain becomes dependent on it. Drinking steadily and consistently over time can produce dependence and cause withdrawal symptoms during periods of abstinence. This physical dependence, however, is not the sole cause of alcoholism. To develop alcoholism, other factors usually come into play, including biology, genetics, culture, and psychology.

Genetic factors appear to play a significant role in alcoholism and may account for about half of the total risk for alcoholism. The role that genetics plays in alcoholism is complex, however, and it is likely that many different genes are involved. Research suggests that alcohol dependence, and other substance addictions, may be associated with genetic variations in 51 different chromosomal regions. Inherited traits that may indicate a possible but unproven association with alcoholism include.

  • The amygdala, an area of the brain thought to play a role in the emotional aspects of craving, has been reported to be smaller in subjects with family histories of alcoholism.
  • People may inherit a lack of the warning signals that ordinarily make people stop drinking. Even in the absence of genetic factors, repeated exposure to alcohol increases the ability to tolerate larger amounts before experiencing behavioral impairment.
  • Serotonin is a brain chemical messenger (neurotransmitter). It is important for well-being and associated behaviors (eating, relaxation, and sleep). Abnormal serotonin levels are associated with high levels of tolerance for alcohol.
  • Dopamine is another neurotransmitter associated with alcoholism and other addictions. Research indicates that high levels of the D2 dopamine receptor may help inhibit behavioral responses to alcohol, and protect against alcoholism, in people with a family history of alcohol dependence.
Even if genetic factors can be identified, however, they are unlikely to explain all cases of alcoholism. It is important to understand that whether they inherit the disorder or not, people with alcoholism are still legally responsible for their actions. Inheriting genetic traits does not doom a child to an alcoholic future. Environment, personality, and emotional factors also play a strong role.

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