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Risk for Alcoholism and Obesity Linked

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine have  found that those with a higher risk for alcoholism may also be at a higher risk for obesity. The study also found that this correlation between family history of alcoholism and obesity has become more pronounced over the years, which suggested that some of the risks are a function of the environment as well genetics.

The researchers analyzed data from two large alcoholism surveys from the past two decades inclusive of almost 80,000 participants. The study found that individuals with a family history of alcoholism had a greater risk for obesity. This proved even more true for women than men. In 2001 and 2002, women who had a family history of alcoholism were 49 percent more likely to be obese than those without alcoholism in their family history. The risk for obesity also seems to be growing. In the late 1970s in the U.S., 15 percent of the population was obese. By 2004 this percentage had nearly doubled (33 percent).

The research suggests that changes in the food we eat since the 70s and 80s may explain the connection between alcoholism and obesity. Today, many tend to consume higher calories and consist of a sugar, salt, fat combination that appeals to the reward center of the brain, the same brain areas that are effected by alcoholism. The greater availability of these foods may also contribute to the increase.

Alcohol abuse over-stimulates the reward center of the brain until it is unable to support itself with its own chemicals. This leads to anxiety, depression, and greater dependence on the substance. These high-caloric, hyper-palatable foods seem to stimulate the brain in the same way, leading to overconsumption and addiction. However, the researchers noted that not all alcoholics were obese or vice versa. One theory of explanation for obesity in individuals with a family history of alcoholism, is that many may avoid alcohol and turn to food instead, resulting in one addiction instead of another, because of the result the food has on their brain.

The researchers hope that their study will open up a dialogue among addiction therapists, treatment specialists, and those who study obesity. Understanding the correlation between alcoholism and obesity is important in determining methods of prevention and treatment and developing possible advancements in treatment.

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