Elevated tryptophan levels in post-withdrawal alcoholics

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Changes in serotonin function and disturbances in tryptophan availability have been implicated in many psychiatric disorders, including alcoholism. In the present study we took serum free tryptophan samples from 31 healthy volunteer controls and from 42 DSM-III-R alcohol-dependent subjects who had abstained from alcohol for at least 2.5 weeks (range 2.5-104 weeks). We also measured the basal serum cortisol level at 09.00 hours for the same subjects and controls. There was a significant increase in the serum tryptophan level of the alcoholic subjects, by 43.7 μmol l-1 (range 29-63 μmol l-1), regardless of age of onset of alcoholism, family history of alcoholism or sociopathic traits, compared to the controls (33.0 μmol l-1, range 19-60 μmol l-1). There was also an increase in the basal serum cortisol level in the alcoholic subjects compared to the controls, but this was not related to the increase in tryptophan levels. These findings indicate a disturbance in serotonin precursor availability in post-withdrawal alcoholics, and contribute to the evidence for involvement of the serotonin system in alcoholism.

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