Neuroendocrine Evidence for Reduced Dopamine Receptor Sensitivity in Alcoholism


  • Presented in part at the second Malmö Symposium on Alcohol, Malmö, Sweden.

  • This study was supported by grants from the Swedish Medical Research Council (Project No. 05249), Bror Gadelius Foundation and the Pfannenstill Foundation.

Reprint requests: UlfC. Berggren, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry, University of Göteborg, St. Jörgen Hospital, S-422 03 Hisings-Backa, Sweden.


Postsynaptic dopamine (DA) receptor sensitivity was assessed during abstinence in 15 male patients with alcohol dependence. The DA receptor sensitivity was evaluated using growth hormone (GH) responses to the DA receptor agonist apomorphine (0.18–0.24 mg intravenously). The patients were cared for in an alcoholism treatment unit for the 2 months prior to the investigation. They were carefully controlled for sobriety during this period. Thirteen healthy men were used as controls. The maximum GH responses to apomorphine were significantly reduced in patients compared with those in the control group. The patients had a significantly higher proportion of blunted GH responses. The findings suggest reduced postsynaptic DA, possibly D2, receptor sensitivity in abstinent alcoholics. The question whether this abnormal DA receptor status is genetically determined or acquired after long-term alcohol consumption remains to be addressed.