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Alcohol Health Res World. 1997;21(3):227-31.

Physiological responses in sons of alcoholics.

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Clinical Science Training Program, Department of Psychology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA.


Researchers have differentiated sons of alcoholics (SOA's) from sons of nonalcoholics (non-SOA's) on various measures of physiological activity that appear to be related to the SOA's increased vulnerability to developing alcohol problems. This article summarizes major findings in the literature and discusses the implications of risk-related physiological characteristics for the future development of alcohol problems. SOA's tend to show signs of physiological activity associated with anxiety states, such as increased heart rate in response to stressful stimuli. Studies also demonstrate that SOA's differ greatly from non-SOA's in their response to alcohol. Drinking alcohol dramatically reduces SOAs' reactivity to both stressful and nonstressful stimuli. Additionally, SOA's appear to be less sensitive to alcohol's intoxicating and impairing effects. However, studies also suggest that some SOA's may experience more of alcohol's rewarding effects for a brief period after drinking. Increased stress-dampening and reduced responsiveness to alcohol's negative effects also appear to predict the development of future alcohol problems and may reflect important vulnerabilities in SOA's.

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