July 6, 2015
Sex and booze can be dangerous bedfellows, inspiring everything from consensual drunken hookups you’d rather forget to outright assault. The brain chemistry that drives us to engage in dangerous behavior in the bedroom or in the bottle are closely related, too. In two recent studies, Duke University scientists were able to map brain profiles linked to risky sex and alcohol abuse in young people, which they say could also help predict the likelihood of future risky behaviors.
Using a sample of 759 male and female undergraduate students, researchers employed non-invasive MRI’s to gauge brain activity in the ventral striatum (the reward center of the brain) and the amygdala (the decision making/emotional center of the brain). According to one study published in Molecular Psychiatry, those with an inverse imbalance of activity in these areas are more likely to engage in “problem drinking.” Both an overactive ventral striatum and an underactive amygdala or an underactive ventral striatum and overactive amygdala inspire alcohol abuse.
In a different study on sexual behavior and the brain published in The Journal of Neuroscience, the same brain activity that causes problem drinking was found in men with a high number of sexual partners. Interestingly, women with a high number of sexual partners had high activity in both parts of the brain, which, according to PsychCentral, indicates both high reward and high threat and suggests that “the amygdala signal is representing different things in men and women.”