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,
Uncommon Wisdom Daily
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