Dopamine transporters increase in human brain after alcohol withdrawal

Mol Psychiatry. 1999 Mar;4(2):189-91, 104-5. doi: 10.1038/


Dopaminergic transmission has been suggested to be a main mechanism mediating reinforcement, withdrawal and craving associated with alcohol addiction. We measured here striatal dopamine (DA) transporter binding from 27 alcoholics within 4 days after cessation of prolonged heavy drinking and after a 4-week period of abstinence with single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) using a cocaine analogue, iodine-123-beta-CIT. Controls were 29 healthy volunteers. Blind quantitative analyses of the SPECT data revealed markedly lower DA transporter binding in alcoholics on admission for detoxification than in the non-alcoholic controls. After a 4-week period of abstinence DA transporter binding increased significantly in the alcoholics (P<0.0001) reaching the levels of the healthy controls. The most substantial recovery in DA transporter binding occurred during the first 4 days of abstinence. The data indicate that prolonged heavy drinking decreases DA transporter binding and disturbs synaptic dopamine transport. This may sensitize alcoholics to dopaminergic transmission, which may lead to early relapse after ethanol withdrawal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcoholism / diagnostic imaging
  • Alcoholism / metabolism*
  • Carrier Proteins / analysis
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cocaine / analogs & derivatives
  • Cocaine / pharmacokinetics
  • Corpus Striatum / diagnostic imaging*
  • Corpus Striatum / metabolism*
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iodine Radioisotopes / pharmacokinetics
  • Male
  • Membrane Glycoproteins*
  • Membrane Transport Proteins*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins*
  • Reference Values
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / diagnostic imaging
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / metabolism
  • Temperance
  • Time Factors
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon / methods*


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Iodine Radioisotopes
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • 2beta-carbomethoxy-3beta-(4-iodophenyl)tropane
  • Cocaine