Scientists discover the part of the brain behind alcohol dependence

Alcohol is as American as apple pie. It’s a part of our culture in just about every way imaginable.

We drink to celebrate holidays, family get-togethers and the start of the weekend.

We drink in the spirit of entertainment at sporting events, theatrical shows and amusement parks.

And we drink socially at happy hour, on a date or simply to ease the irrational stress of human interaction.

But there’s a dangerous trend in our country where alcohol becomes more than just a social norm. Currently 17.6 million people, or one out of every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse.

Chances are you know someone who’s been affected by alcohol dependence. It can destroy someone’s life and disrupt the lives of those closely involved.

Treatment can be just as big a challenge as the disease itself. The standard is to send someone to a treatment program or to a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous, which uses 12 steps to help members overcome alcohol addiction.

However, a growing body of evidence looking at AA’s success rates suggests the program is only 5%-10% effective. This leaves the vast majority of people who seek help without a cure.

The problem, however, seems to start with the societal stigma that alcoholism isn’t a real addiction like that of other drugs such as cocaine or heroin.

Most people regard alcoholism as a psychological problem when it’s actually a physiological problem rooted deep within neurology of the brain.

A recent study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience by researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, found that alcohol consumption alters the structure and function of neurons in the dorsomedial striatum, a part of the brain known to be important in goal-driven behaviors.

These affected neurons are responsible for dopamine. Dopamine is the "feel good" neurotransmitter and has been linked to other drug addictions before.

Specifically these affected neurons are known as D1 and D2.

D1 neurons are informally called part of a "go" pathway in the brain, while D2 neurons are in the "no-go" pathway. In other words, when D2 neurons are activated, they discourage action — telling you to wait, to stop, to do nothing.

The team in the cited study found that periodic consumption of large amounts of alcohol acts on D1 neurons, making them much more excitable — which means that they activate with less stimulation.

Basically, the more you drink, the easier it is for your brain to tell you to keep drinking.

This creates a slippery slope effect where the brain keeps telling you to have "one more drink" … except the process is stuck on repeat and only gets worse over time, leading to alcohol dependence.

Dopamine has been linked to addiction before, but the discovery of the D1 receptor is what is so important in this study. That’s because it shows the specific part of the brain responsible for alcohol addiction.

When animal models in the study were given a drug to at least partially block the D1 receptor, they showed a much-reduced desire to drink alcohol.

"If we suppress this activity, we’re able to suppress alcohol consumption," aid Jun Wang, M.D., Ph.D., the lead author on the paper and an assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics at the Texas A&M College of Medicine.

"This is the major finding. Perhaps in the future, researchers can use these findings to develop a specific treatment targeting these neurons."

This breakthrough in the treatment of alcohol addiction could help millions of people battling this disease.

But we must educate the masses on the seriousness of alcoholism and how it’s not just a bad habit to break, but a physiological change in the brain that must be made.

Popular programs like AA take a broad stance against the use of any substances, including medication, on the view that such medication is a "crutch.”

This perception of addiction is potentially holding back millions of people from curing their disease.

I believe every case of addiction should be treated as a separate problem with a unique cure, and by all means we should take every safe initiative to effectively help cure someone who is suffering.

Happy and healthy investing,

Brad Hoppmann


Uncommon Wisdom Daily

Journal Reference:

J. Wang, Y. Cheng, X. Wang, E. Roltsch Hellard, T. Ma, H. Gil, S. Ben Hamida, D. Ron. Alcohol Elicits Functional and Structural Plasticity Selectively in Dopamine D1 Receptor-Expressing Neurons of the Dorsomedial Striatum. Journal of Neuroscience, 2015; 35 (33): 11634 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0003-15.2015

Your thoughts on “Scientists discover the part of the brain behind alcohol dependence”

  1. P.S

    Attempting atsumming up THE ORIGINAL AA:

    (Step 12)

    “(Alcoholics) …having got a spirutual experience, removing and taking the place of drinking, as the result of the twelve steps…


    …trying to pass the (above) message on to (other) alcoholics AND to practise the principles in ALL affairs.”

    (Ingemar of Sweden)


    2. Medical Ventures on Alcoholism.

    The enormous complexity of the disease of alcoholism would require the whole of a scientific thesis, and I am not intending making such a one here.

    In brief, with all do respect, I am rather convinced that Jun Wang, M.D., Ph.D., at the Texas A&M College of Medicine (supported by you Brad) is on the wrong track on his venture on alcoholism (If successfull many congratulations and hat off! And if not, I am open on a debate.)

    My belief is that surgery or drug experiments will, even when sucessfull, kill the patient or making him a zombie, due to the countless damages, inborn as well as contracted, physical as well as psychical.

    I believe that early in the drinking career most alcoholics perhaps could have stopped drinking. But THE DIFFICULTY is that no alcoholics have enough desire to stop while there is yet time. The elusive sensation of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks have taken root in their sense and they are not willing nor able to do without.

    MY VIEW: I am most appealed to the ORIGINAL AA (See my piece of writing on September 14th.) and its suggestion of curing alcoholics by three stages:

    # THE DISEASE in two parts:
    1. A PHYSIOLOGICAL DEFECT which makes the body of an alcoholic breaking down alcohol incorrectly, creating the phenomenon of an importunate craving after only taking one drink or two. This abnormal reaction differentiates him from other people.
    2. A PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEM making an alcoholic unable at certain times, to bring into his consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. He is without defense against the first drink. As a matter of fact he has lost the power of choice in drink (It has occurred long before it is suspected). His sound reasoning fails to hold him in check. His insane old threadbare idea that this time he shall handle himself like other people, always wins out over and over again.
    These two mentioned characteristics combined makes him what the ORIGINAL AA regards as a REAL alcoholic and there is next to none hope of his recovery. The abnormal reaction to alcohol of an alcoholic has never been eradicated by any treatment. The only relief is entire abstinence. Knowing and accepting that however, is not enough since the alcoholic always reverts to his insane obsession….

    Passing through an entire psychic change by finding the greater power when having a spiritual experiance, an inner awakening, in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements.

    THE TWELVE STEPS of AA or the path from the disease to the solution:
    Bringing up recovery, reconstruction, removing flaws in character, revising instincts and so on, leading to completely new and good ideas, emotions, attitudes and conceptions, creating an inner experience and a greater power than the alcoholic himself, making him able to easily control his desire for alcohol. Willingness, honesty, an open mind and NO reservation for drinking are the only qualities needed but they are on the other hand absolutely necessary to be sucessful.
    To keep and develop this vital spirituel experience and this new design of living is the only effort required from the alcoholic, doing it by keeping up the twelve steps (just one day at a time day by day!).


    The ORIGINAL AA (from mid 1930 until 1960-1970 had a tremendous rate of success with an efficiency of 60%-70% recoveries. That is a result a class of its own, the best ever method curing alcoholism so far. Uninitiated were highly astonished when they saw far advanced alcoholics suddenly have speedy recoveries and becoming of service to society. They saw plain miracles occur and many compared it to the miracles of the Bible, like the paralysed man who took his bed and went away!

    Tragicly AA was watered down from mid 1960 and is a mere shadow of its former self nowadays (See my previous two pieces of wrightings).

    Reading the first chapter of the book AA COMES OF AGE, where Bill Wilson, the founder of AA, is looking back at all the fantastic persons and their recoveries in the ORIGINAL AA and all happenings and by united effort from the first members when altruisticly working to make AA growing strong and beeing great by giving out the masterly worked out book ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, you have to feel somewhat sad at the degeneration of AA in the last 50 years and now has a rate of efficiency of only 5%-10% recoveries.

    Taking into consideration the complexity of the phenomenon (unexplainable) alcoholism, I can imagine that, after all these years since alcohol first was produced, the mystery will not ever be solved and that the results which the ORIGINAL AA performed will remain unsurpassed.


    Best Regards,


    Further two issues from your article that interest me:

    1. AA.
    2. Medical ventures on alcoholism.

    1. AA: You write that AA´s PROGRAM is only 5%-10% effective. Studying AA I wish to make a correction: AA is only 5%-10% effective nowadays since the members of AA in general, DO NO LONGER PERFORM THE PROGRAM OF AA ANY MORE: They merely go to AA-meetings and that is all. “Keep going to AA-meetings and you will be sober either you want or not” and other empty phrases are what newcomers are told when arriving to AA. As a matter of fact only 5%-10% of the AA-members keeps going to AA for the rest of their lives and stay sober in the fellowship. The rest of them leave the community sooner or later and likewise sooner or later return to their destructive drinking alcoholic lives as they have nothing to base upon (Remember: they have not executed the AA-program). They relapses to their for an alcoholic grave forgetfulness and goes back into their insane and fatal obsession. I regret saying that your observation of the low efficiency of AA nowadays seems to be correct.

    BUT: From mid 1930 up to 1960-70 the efficiency of AA was 60%-70%! In the original AA (as I prefer to call it) the main point of the members was executing the real AA-program which is from THE DOCTOR´S OPINION up to Chapter Seven WORKING WITH OTHERS in the book ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS. Older members opened up the program to newcomers. Buy performing the so called TWELVE STEPS (the program) as many as six or seven out of ten members found the great power that restored them to sanity. They recovered and did not drink again by not doing it one day at a time. They discovered this power within themselves but it had been obscured by calamity, pomp, trouble, failure etc. and alcoholism. And now the sick person took his bed and went! By the way: At that time the AA-meetings had only one purpose. THE RECOVERED ALCOHOLICS WANTED TO GIVE OTHER, STILL SUFFERING, ALCOHOLICS THE SAME OPPORTUNITY THAT THEY THEMSELVES HAD GOT BY MAKING THE STEPS (THE MESSAGE). This early AA is probably the best ever treatment of alcoholism there has been up to now.

    The original AA was on its way beeing the greatest issue of the century (the twentieth) but tragically the watering down of AA from 1960-70 until now has made AA near to a satire upon itself. Sorry to say the comic strip RUDE AWAKENINGS gives an apposite picture of AA at present.


    Kind Regards,
    Ingemar Fredriksson

  4. You say that alcoholism is a physiological problem and not a psychological problem:

    # As a matter of fact alcoholism is BOTH of it. Real alcoholics suffer from a psychological problem and a physiological defect.

    A physician who has treated a lot of alcoholics once said something like the following:

    People drink essentielly because they like the effect they get from alcohol. /PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEM/: For alcoholics the sensation is so elusive that, despite they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false. To them their alcoholic life seems to be the only normal one. They are restless, irritable and discontended, unless they can again experience the sence of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks – drinks which they see others taking with impunity. After they have succumbed to the desire again, as they all do, and /PHYSIOLOGICAL DEFECT/ the phenomenon of the importunate craving develops, they pass through all the well-known stages of spree, emerging remorseful, to a renewed firm resolution never to drink again.

    The doctor continued: This is repeated over and over again, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change their is no hope of recovery. On the other hand – how strange this may seem to those (“the others”) who do not understand – once a psychich change has occurred, the very same person who seemed doomed and who had so many problems that he despaired of ever solving them, suddenly finds himself easily able to control his desire for alcohol, and THE ONLY EFFORT NECESSARY BEING THAT REQUIRED TO FOLLOW A FEW SIMPLE RULES.

    So far the doctor. I cannot imagine a more brilliantly executed explanation of the PHENOMENONA alcoholism than he made.

    Regarding all possible or RATHER impossible medical experiments of all kinds on alcoholics and alcoholism I will write to you again sooner or later on as far as time admits and expound my views about it and perhaps a few other matters if you are interested.

    Best Regards,
    Ingemar Fredriksson
    from Sweden

  5. The only cure is not to consume alcohol – alcohol was made for fuel in our motor cars. Do we drink gasoline? Who can trust the pharmaceutical company with this task. They are there just to make money and make the pharmaceutical companies rich. People who drink are boozing to burry their sorrows/problems by hiding behind it. It is their cooping mechanism , but what these people need is counseling that drinking will not cure why they are drinking in the first place.

    A person under the influence does not know what they are doing – their decision making thinking is compromised. Once they sober up, they do not remember what harm they did to others while self damaging their liver etc. Everyone tolerates alcohol differently. In my opinion they really need phychological help getting better. Alcoholism also helps disinfect so many things to avoid infection. Our judicial system is also flawed. Everything is tied up together, but it ought not to be as they are individual situations.

  6. The meds AA is against are all addictive meds and drugs dispensed to alchies by ignorant Dr.s. and all mind altering substances that are addictive. Alcohalism is a disease as per AMA.!
    Unless you are an alcohalic or drug addict you will never understand one….

  7. Just wanted to add their is NO cure! You have to stop drinking! I have never seen anyone beat this disease! Maggie

  8. I am an alcoholic and have been sober for 18 years. I owe it to AA and a huge desire not to become my mom who suffered with this disease almost her entire life (she was sober five years when she passed away at 61). I believe it is inherited as many of my family have been inflicted with this terrible disease, we are also part Irish and I believe that some groups of people are more prone to inherit this disease than others. I remember my first drink and then I blacked out. If I had two glasses of wine I slurred my words and it was obvious I was impaired. The problem was once I had a sip of alcohol I wanted more….it was the most strongest urge I have ever had. It would consume me. I am a very strong willed person and I accomplished things in my life that other people thought were impossible, but alcohol is unlike any thing I have ever had it takes over your life. I do not believe that anyone who is an alcoholic can ever drink again. I saw many people try and they either died or stopped drinking. I know it has something to do with the chemistry of your body and breaking down of sugar. I hope you do not give people false hope or ideas that they can drink again! I would never take the chance no matter what some scientist or doctor said I would never pick up a drink no matter what. I no longer crave it or think about it, but I know if I drank again it would all come back. Thank you for letting me tell my story as I would hate to give hope to someone who is struggling with staying sober. Maggie

  9. I consume beer on a daily basis after work and on weekends. I feel my liver starting to go. I have blood in my stools and need to quit all togeather to prolong my life. If you can come up with any drug that can suppress the D1 and help me quit then I’m on board.

  10. AA works 100% of the time, if a human being actually does all of it. The problem is drug addicts talking their problems, real alcoholics not identifying, therefore hesitating as to doing things they don’t understand and don’t yet believe in. Singleness of purpose is critical. It’s that simple.

  11. As a survivor of alcoholism, I have to thank AA. At the end of the day people are always looking for the easy way out. However, if your new drug does help people with addictive problems then that’s great. I would like to hear more but thus far … the best thing around is AA.



  12. I’ve been going thru that pattern for yrs I have been to the bottom and work back up I’ve been to the top international y maybe I need to try harder but something always pulls me back for a couple wks at a time and its hard to get back over it

  13. There is some evidence that Niacin (B3) supplements can help with alcohol dependence. Bill W (AA) tried to get people to take it, but the AMA nixed it.

  14. In the conclusion I didn’t see a clear path to curing alcohol abuse. However, the information is interesting.

  15. Dear Brad, This is one of the more enlightening articles on human alcohol consumption that I have ever read. What do you think are the best “pathways to the printed press” and past the AA 12-steppers, who feel AA is the ONLY way, even though so many I know and have know going for 5, 10 15 or more years know that the AA success rate is just 5 to 10?

    I’ll await your reply directly of in a near-future issue of Uncommon Daily Wisdom.

    ~ Citizen Clark of Novato

  16. Thanks Brad, Your interest in sharing valuable insights is most encouraging to those of us in the treatment field–keep it up. I am doing research on brain healings in the treatment of the whole person–spirit, soul and body. All of you varied sharings make us better investors! Dr. Jim Burck

  17. AA dose not take a stand against the use of medications. Many folks with long term sobriety take medications for depression, anxiety, and yes even pain. AA does not give medical advice of any kind, that is left to medical professionals. What AA does do is help people to live a sober, happy, productive life. This, of course, starts with not drinking alcohol and working the 12 suggestive steps.

  18. Before AA was founded, the cure rate for alcoholism was zero. It was always fatal.

    Your statement about AA opposing new medications to treat alcoholism is not accurate. Given how AA is constituted, I doubt it would be possible for AA to make any such statement.

    Given the importance of this disease, it deserves further study by publishers. You might start by going to a meeting, and learning first hand what AA is all about. It is a unique society (I hesitate to use the word “organization”), unlike any other on the planet.

  19. I’m 99.9% non-drinker. I may drink a toast at a wedding or other celebration. That is about it.
    I wonder if this research has also been applied to marijuana use? A cousin and I recently talked how marijuana seems to us, to lessen healthy ambition.
    Addiction is terrible on several fronts. It is also a growing problem. I sure don’t want someone I trust (doctor, stockbroker, pilot, truck driver…) hung over when they are near me!

  20. I am interested in learning more. How can a person block the activity of the D1receptor?

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