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A group of scientists at Scripps Research conducted a study to determine how PTSD causes neural changes that lead to alcohol abuse. The researchers designed experiments to help them identify the differences in how PTSD affects men and women.

The scientists observed in mice studies that PTSD symptoms in male mice are different from those observed in females. Lab studies usually do not account for such differences, which means both genders receive similar therapies. The study findings may aid in the development of more effective therapies. The researchers published the findings in the Molecular Psychiatry journal.

“Having PTSD significantly increases the risk of developing alcohol use disorder, as individuals use alcohol to cope with stress and anxiety. Yet the underlying biology of comorbid disorders is generally not well understood,” stated Dr. Dean Kirsonwho co-authored the study with Dr. Michael Steinman.

Dr. Kirson hopes that the findings will facilitate the development of more effective therapies. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics indicates that roughly 7 or 8 percent of Americans experience PTSD. Some of the most common causes include accident trauma, physical abuse, and combat trauma. PTSD patients tend to suffer from alcohol abuse disorder, which affects roughly 15 million Americans. PTSD patients also experience intense alcohol withdrawal symptoms, which may trigger a relapse for those who abstain from alcohol.

GABA signaling gave significant insights into the mechanisms involved

The scientists observed different GABA signaling patterns between male and female PTSD patients. Male patients demonstrated high GABA receptor function while females showed higher GABA release. The researchers observed that men had an immune-based biomarker called cytokines that are produced by immune cells.

The researchers discovered that specific cytokines previously not linked to PSTD are strongly tied to poor drinking behaviors. They also plan to continue with the research to identify the biomarkers that link to PTSD in females. Scientists also plan to investigate the relationship between trauma-related disorders and the immune system. They believe that the research findings may pave the way for a better understanding of how experiences may affect the immune system. It could subsequently lead to more efficient ways of tackling various conditions.