Why alcohol is addictive

why alcohol is addictiveSeveral new study have increased our knowledge of what causes alcohol addiction. Each study has expanded our understandig of the disease and and highlights potential new ways alcoholism can be treated. In the first study, Researchers found that when alcohol is consumed the bain releases endorphins. While this has long been predicted, these new results reinforce what many experts suspected. The study was conducted by the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Centre, San Francisco. Drinking alcohol leads to the release of endorphins, in the area that produces feelings of pleasure and reward. This is the first time that endorphin release - in the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal cortex - has been observed in humans consuming alcohol. Jennifer Mitchell, clinical project director, said 'This is something that we're speculated about for 30 years, based on animal studies, but haven't observed in humans until now.' She continued, 'It provides the first direct evidence of how alcohol makes people feel good.'

While the first study looked at the brain rewards of alcoholics, the second study on the causes of alcohol addiction actually looked at the lack of negative consiquences exerienced by alcoholics. The study was conducted at the university of Utah and found that a part of the brain called the Lateral Habenula may be partly responsible for alcohol addiction. This region of the brain helps people learn from negative experiences. When the region is deactivated in rats, the rodents will drink more and more despite negative consequences.  

In the first study, researchers employed something called positron emission tomography, or PET imaging in the study. This allowed them to observe the effects of alcohol in the brains of 25 participants - 13 heavy drinkers, and 12 occasional drinkers.

Alcohol intake led to the release of endorphins in all of the subjects, and as more endorphins were released in the nucleus accumbens, the feelings of pleasure became greater. However, as more endorphins were released in the orbitofrontal cortex, the feelings of intoxication only became greater in the heavy drinkers.

Of the results, Mitchell said “This indicates that the brains of heavy or problem drinkers are changed in a way that makes them more likely to find alcohol pleasant.' She added that this 'may be a clue to how problem drinking develops in the first place...that greater feeling of reward might cause them to drink too much.”

The research also provides an insight into how to effectively treat alcoholism. Indeed Howard L. Fields, professor of neurology at University of California, stated 'The discovery of the precise locations in the brain where endorphins are released provides a possible target for the development of more effective drugs for the treatment of alcohol abuse.'

Indeed, the study allowed researchers to map the exact locations of opioid receptors, or areas of the brain that respond to substances such as alcohol and heroin. Currently, most medications used to treat alcoholism block many opioid receptors at once, causing the user to feel ill. But with the help of this research, medication may be produced that targets a specific opioid receptor - or in other words, it may reduce the desire to drink alcohol without causing any ill side-effects.


Other Reasons for Alcohol Addiction

There are a number of reasons beyond brain chemistry that can help explain alcohol addiction. For many people drinking too much is a symptom of a deeper problem rather than just a desire for alcohol. Infact, there are three common reasons that can contribute to people becoming addicted to alcohol. 

The first is depression. Many people who are depressed use alcohol because it either numbs their feelings or changes their behaviour. These people often start out drinking because they believe alcohol helps fight their depression. Unfortuantly, Alcohol is itself a depresant. The more these people drink, the greater their need for alcohol. Their tolerance goes up and they have to drink more to achieve the same result. Then they must deal with the hangovers and other problems their new addiction causes which can push them further into depression. This starts a cycle of drinking and regret that is hard to break. 

The second reason some people may developing an alcohol addiction is to deal with negative feelings. While people with depression self medicate to feel less depressed, some people are simply unable to process negative emotions. They are not nesisarily depressed, just emotionally ill equipped to deal wiht the ups and downs of everyday life. For these people, alcohol becomes a way to handle negative emotions without facing them. Why face your problems when you can get drunk and wait for them to go away?

The third and final reason some people become addicted to alcohol is social drinking. While there are millions of people who enjoy alcohol responsibly, some individuals seem unable to stop. They start out drinking socially and in moderation, but as their tollerance increases, they drink more. While their friends often find their limit and settle on a health level of alcohol consumption, these people begine to associate having a good time with being drunk. For them you can not have one without the other. Once this connection is made, some people just can not help themselves. They feel they must drink more to enjoy themselves.  


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