What makes some people more prone to alcohol addiction? A new study says it may be a collection of neurons in the brain that influences whether one drink leads to two, or three, or more.
The Standard’s Laura Rice reports this discovery means there could be a cure, maybe in the form of a medication for alcoholism and other addictions.
Texas A&M Assistant Professor Dr. Jun Wang says his ultimate goal is to understand how the addicted brain works.
“Alcoholism or alcohol use disorder is a very common disease,” Wang says. “But the underlying mechanism is not well understood.”
His new study gets him a little closer to that goal. You might not think it would be too tough. It’s not rocket science, right? But it is neuroscience. That’s why Dr. Wang is breaking down the structure of the brain into objects we can relate to.
“The human brain contains 10 billion neurons. And a neuron looks like a tree which contains a lot of branches.,” Wang says. “There’s some small structures like leaves – we call them a spine. And I think the spine is the place where we store memory.”
Got it? These spines are where memory could be stored. So, each of these little memory-containing spines on the neurons has a dopamine receptor. You know dopamine – that’s the chemical associated with pleasure. There are two types of these dopamine receptors – D1 and D2. Dr. Wang and his team found the D1 receptors are very excitable and that large amounts of alcohol make them even more so.
“Then the question is, can we selectively suppress activity of the D1 neurons and by this inhibit or decrease alcohol intake,” he says.
Wang thinks so – or at least that it’s very possible. That would mean the next step would be a drug that blocks the D1 receptor. Shutting down those tiny little excited parts of the brain that say, come on, have another drink!
The development of such a drug is probably a long ways off… but Wang says this is a major step in that direction. And that’s something we can all drink to – But it might be better if we don’t.