Brain change drives alcohol dependence, finds study

Moderate drinking and binge drinking both are known to have side effects on the mind and body. The effect of alcohol on the brain and best possible ways to reverse the effect have been the epicenter of many researches. A recent mouse-based research carried out by the scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) suggested some personalized treatment modalities that can be effective in dealing with alcoholism and alcohol use disorder. The findings have been published online in The Journal of Neuroscience in April 2017.

The research highlighted the difference in the way brains of alcohol-dependent rats and nondependent rats respond to alcohol. It was found that the brain region, called as central amygdala (CeA), in both the groups (dependent and nondependent) showed increased activity after alcohol intake. However, the activity in each case resulted from the two completely different brain-signaling pathways.

According to Marisa Roberto, professor at TSRI and the senior author of the study, these findings can go a long way in helping researchers develop personalized pharmacological interventions to treat alcohol dependence by evaluating a person’s brain response to different therapeutics. The research is an extension of Roberto lab’s previous hypothesis that alcohol may increase neuronal activity in the CeA, which contains high levels of neuropeptides. These neuropeptides were found to significantly change inhibitory transmission in CeA while contributing to excitatory transmission. Surprisingly, these responses were reported in both alcohol-dependent and alcohol-naïve animals.

Suppressing particular brain activity may treat alcohol dependence

As the researchers investigated the same phenomenon in the current study, they could not help but wonder about the possibility of two different mechanisms causing the increased activity in the two groups. They started by giving naïve rats a dose of alcohol, which engaged the proteins called calcium channels and triggered neuronal activity. The activation of neurons stimulated specific calcium channels (referred to as L-type voltage-gated calcium channels or LTCCs), which in turn stimulated the release GABA neurotransmitter. Researchers found that voluntary alcohol consumption in naïve rats could be reduced by blocking these LTCCs.

However, alcohol-dependent rats had comparatively lower levels of LTCCs on neuronal cell membranes. Instead, a stress hormone (referred to as corticotropin-releasing factor or CRF) and its type 1 receptor (CRF1) was found to enhance neuronal activity. Therefore, researchers suggested that voluntary alcohol consumption in the alcohol-dependent rats could be reduced by blocking CeA CRF1. Roberto explained, “There is a switch in the molecular mechanisms underlying the CeA’s response to alcohol (from LTCC- to CRF1-driven) as the individual transitions to the alcohol-dependent state.”

Roberto is confident of the application of these findings in developing better modalities to treat alcohol dependence. Although multiple factors can be responsible for causing alcohol use disorder, these findings can help doctors develop a novel drug aimed at suppressing the particular brain activity responsible for alcohol-related problems.

Treatment of alcohol dependence

Alcohol-dependent people need professional help to quit or cut down on drinking. But the key to any successful program is a person’s willingness to quit. The therapists must also look for any other underlying problems and then suggest the best possible course of action for sustained recovery. The treatment interventions to help a person recover from alcohol dependence may include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), individual and group therapy, motivational interviewing (MI) and alternate therapies to calm the mind.

If you know someone looking to get over with alcohol addiction, the experts at Alcohol Addiction Get Help Helpline can help you find the best alcohol addiction treatment centers in your vicinity that are well-equipped to handle withdrawal symptoms. You can contact a representative over online chat or call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-281-3014 for more information on evidence-based treatment programs.