Alcoholism affects nearly 17 million people in the country and is the third most common cause of preventable death every year. However, scientists at the Texas A & M Health Science Center College of Medicine recently made a discovery that could alter these statistics immeasurably.
In a study published by the Journal of Neuroscience, it was reported that those scientists believed they had identified the neuron in the brain that caused alcoholism and other addictions. If this finding can be verified and proven, it could send shock waves through the world that could eliminate alcoholism and addiction forever.
What Is The Science Behind The Discovery?
For years, scientists have known that dopamine plays a role in addiction, but they couldn’t quite isolate how or why. They understood that this pleasure-producing chemical would flood the mind of a person whenever they drank alcohol and could create a cycle of addiction. But the chemical reason behind this reaction wasn’t understood.
However, the scientists at the Texas A & M Health Center College of Medicine studied two different dopamine receptors. the D1 and the D2 neurons. The difference between these neurons is significant: D1 neurons tell the brain to continue a behavior because it produces pleasure while D2 neurons tell the brain to stop a behavior because it is unpleasant.
Tracking these neurons during their study showed a startling correlation: D1 neurons exposed to large amounts of alcohol were more highly developed. As a result, they were more “excitable” and tended to become active without stimulation.
In simpler terms, this meant that more mature D1 receptors generated a “go” signal at a higher rate and without any need. As a result, this generated intense cravings for alcohol. More cravings means a higher likelihood of abusing alcohol.
How Was This Discovered?
Scientists discovered this amazing revelation by studying two animal groups, one exposed to large amounts of alcohol and another that wasn’t exposed. Then, they tracked the activity of the neurons in the brains of these animals.
10 to 15 years ago, this kind of research would have been impossible. However, newer neuron-level microscopes have made it possible to focus in on these microscopic sections of the brain. Under these microscopes, the neurons of the control animals were found to generate intense cravings for alcohol and to prefer the consumption of very large amounts of alcohol.
The connection between these behaviors and binge drinking is obvious: increased D1 activity clearly led to an increase in the desire and the need for excessive alcohol consumption.
Could This Lead To A Cure for Alcoholism?
Although it is much too early to tell if a cure for alcoholism is possible, this finding creates a much higher probability of discovery. In fact, scientists actually gave the control group animals a drug that partially blocked the activity of the D1 receptor.
Amazingly, this severely decreased the animal’s desire to drink alcohol. While the animals still had alcohol cravings, they were at a much lower level than without the drug. Tellingly, blocking the D2 receptors did nothing to suppress cravings, meaning the D1 receptor is clearly the culprit in addiction.
With this finding, there is a real possibility that scientists could find ways to block D1 excitability in a focused manner and eliminate its sensitivity to alcohol. In theory, this could eliminate the symptoms of physical alcoholism.
What About Psychological Addiction?
Alcoholism is a complex disease because it exists on both a physical and psychological level. While potential physical cures may be possible by treating the D1 neuron, it’s not likely that psychological addiction would be affected by this treatment. Remember: addiction is a learned behavior, one that is tightly linked to a person’s psychological and mental health.
For example, let’s say in the future a person addicted to alcohol undergoes a new D1 neurological treatment method and is physically cured of their addiction. However, their psychological addiction is partially fueled by a desire to “fit in” with their heavy-drinking friends.
As a result, they may still fall into patterns of problematic drinking to fulfill their psychological imperative. Treating that compulsion will still require psychological treatment, in spite of the fact that a person may be completely psychically cured.
However, if D1 neurological treatment is possible in the future, it may be able to eliminate the painful process of detoxification, withdrawal, and the use of anti-alcoholism medicines that treat the symptoms, but not the cause, of addiction. This helps rehabilitation experts focus on treating the more difficult psychological influences.
Learning More About This Important Discovery
If you or someone you love suffers from alcoholism, you need to keep track of the progress of this important discovery. Our friendly and informative experts will keep you informed on how this discovery is changing the world of addiction. Until then, we can also help connect you to a rehabilitation center that can help you during your difficult addiction recovery. Contact us today at AlcoholTreatment.net and begin to get your life back.