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Pharmacopsychiatry. 2003 Nov;36 Suppl 3:S255-8.

Neurobiological correlates of the disposition and maintenance of alcoholism.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Charité - University Medicine Berlin, Campus Charité-Mitte (CCM), Berlin, Germany.


The last decade witnessed a rapid increase in the knowledge of the etiopathology and treatment of alcoholism. The current disease concept includes psychosocial and neurobiological foundations and consequences of alcoholism. Neurobiological research points to dispositional factors such as a low level of response to alcohol, which is partly heritable and seems to be associated with monoaminergic dysfunction and reduced GABAergic alcohol effects. Chronic alcohol intake stimulates counteradaptive neuroadaptation in central GABAergic and glutamatergic neurotransmission, which increases alcohol tolerance. Neuroadaptation to chronic alcohol effects is not immediately reversed during detoxification and can cause clinical withdrawal once alcohol intake is terminated. Sensitization of the dopaminergic and opioidergic reward system may contribute to alcohol craving and reduced control of alcohol intake. New treatment options include pharmacological approaches and indicate that behavior or motivational therapy and the attendance of patient groups may equally reduce the relapse risk.

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