A new US study conducted by neuroscientists has uncovered an explanation as to why alcoholics crave alcohol so badly… Alcohol hijacks the brain.
The scientists’ aim was to find out why, even after years of abstinence in some cases, those who have suffered from alcohol addiction are still vulnerable to relapse. This follows the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recognising addiction as a “chronic relapsing brain disease”.
Using fruit flies as the basis of the studies, the scientists from Browns University found that one of the key molecular structures that fruit flies and humans share is disrupted by alcohol and genetically changed as a result. This disruption occurs in the brain’s pleasure-reward centre and is key to animals and humans chasing rewarding experiences. It’s as if alcohol hijacks the brain.
We have known for a long time that addiction of any kind, whether it be to alcohol, drugs, behaviour or activity, is linked to brain’s reward system and involves euphoric recall. Hence, there is currently no medical cure for addiction.
The scientists conducting the study wanted to find out how addiction occurs on a molecular level in the case of alcoholics.
Fruit flies were used as a comparable substitute for the human brain, as whilst they only have 100,000 neurons in comparison to humans who have 100 billion neurons, they share some core features of the brain’s structure – the pleasure-reward system pathway being one of them.
Dr Karla Kaun, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Browns University and senior author of the published findings, explained the purpose of the study which was conducted by a team of undergraduates, technicians and postdoctoral researchers: She said: “One of the things I want to understand is why drugs of abuse can produce really rewarding memories when they’re actually neurotoxins.”
The professor added: “All drugs of abuse — [including] alcohol, opiates, cocaine, methamphetamine — have adverse side effects. They make people nauseous or they give people hangovers, so why do we find them so rewarding? Why do we remember the good things about them and not the bad? My team is trying to understand on a molecular level what drugs of abuse are doing to memories and why they’re causing cravings.”
The findings of Browns University alcohol study were published late October ths year, in the journal Neuron and on Browns University website. Full details of the study and its findings can be found by following this link.
The study concluded that alcohol hijacks a conserved memory pathway in the fruit fly’s brain that is identical to the one in humans. This particular memory pathway is responsible for euphoric recall. Alcohol changes the molecular version of the genes made in this pathway, which in turn forms cravings that fuel addiction.
This explains why this particular baffling (and often misunderstood) characteristic of alcoholism remains even once alcohol consumption has ceased.
Why would an individual who has lost all as a result of their alcoholism even consider the possibility of taking another drink once they have gotten sober?
The answer to this is partially reflected in the studies findings and what we already know of alcoholism that alcoholics have no natural in-built defense against their brain’s altered reward system pathway, which at certain times only recalls what alcohol did for them as opposed to what it did to them.
Each relapse, following a period of sobriety, is commonly worse for an alcoholic in the vast majority of cases. This is due to the fact that the disease of addiction, which is created on a molecular level within the brain, is progressive in nature. It dictates the individuals thinking and removes their ability to see truth and reason.
One thing that has been clear for a long time is that alcoholism isn’t a choice, it is a disease and compulsion that is beyond the sufferer’s control. Alcohol hijacks the brain. The chemical changes to the brain’s reward system induced by repeated exposure to alcohol, leave an alcoholic powerless over alcohol. The power of choice is lost.
What is not yet clear is what makes one individual predisposed to developing alcoholism and another not. We know that there are contributing factors to addiction. These can include trauma, mental ill health, genetics and environmental upbringing. However, science is yet to fully establish the main determining factor(s).
The more that science comes to understand alcoholism and the causes of alcoholism, and the more that this information is fed back into the world, the less stigma there will be and more individuals will seek life saving treatment and help as a result.
The reality as we see it, is this:
An alcoholic will always have the disease of addiction residing within their brain. Once they are aware of the nature of their illness, they possess the ability to get to the truth. They can also recognise the associated behaviours that enable it. Rehab will show the tools and means to challenge and change their own thinking.
They are able to see reason and reject the thought of alcohol in favour of a healthier coping strategy.
Step by Step Recovery understands the importance of rehabilitating the brain following an alcohol detox. Each patient we treat has their own experience of alcoholism and how it affects them and their loved ones. We therefore design a bespoke and very specific alcohol rehab programme that is therapeutic and holistic in nature – to challenge and change the core beliefs that drive their addiction.
The Lighthouse provide alcoholics with the life saving tools required for continuous sobriety. These include mindful practices and healthy coping strategies. This helps alcoholics with the life saving tools required for continuous sobriety. It also allows healing on a deeper level and a new awareness of their condition.
Step by Step Recovery are passionate about saving lives and helping alcoholics and addicts to recover from alcoholism. We provide a totally non-judgemental residential rehab environment in which you or your loved one can be nurtured back to full mental, emotional and physical health.
This is done by teaching proven methods of awareness and change that are conducive to healing. We can treat compulsive behaviors and substance abuse. Recovery from alcoholism IS possible; we know, many of our counsellors and therapists are in recovery from addiction themselves.
Call us today on 0800 170 1222 or complete our online form. Take the first step to a brand new alcohol and addiction free life!
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