Background: Prolactin serum levels have been described to be elevated during alcohol withdrawal in alcohol-dependent patients and normalize during abstinence. Alterations in prolactin levels may reflect disturbances of dopaminergic neurotransmission which is of crucial importance for alcohol-seeking behavior.
Methods: In this longitudinal observational study, we investigated prolactin serum levels in 99 male patients during the first 14 days of alcohol withdrawal and early abstinence and in 43 healthy controls. To assess the severity of alcohol dependence, the extent of withdrawal symptoms, craving, depressive symptoms, and anxiety, we employed a structured interview including psychologic measurements.
Results: Prolactin serum levels were elevated during the whole study period in alcohol-dependent patients compared to the healthy control group. Prolactin levels at admission (first day of alcohol withdrawal) were associated with the severity of alcohol withdrawal (CIWA-Ar) and of alcohol dependence (SESA) but not with the other assessed psychologic parameters.
Conclusions: The presented findings confirm that prolactin is significantly elevated in alcohol-dependent patients during alcohol withdrawal and early abstinence, not showing a rapid decline after cessation of drinking. The association with the severity of withdrawal and dependence may reflect at least partially the individual alterations in the dopaminergic and glutamatergic pathways.