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Scientists identify brain circuit that controls binge drinking

Scientists identify brain circuit that controls binge drinking

May 20 | By Rachael

Binge drinking is common in the United States, especially among young adults. Despite repeated warnings by the government regarding alcohol-related emergencies, young adults tend to drink heavily within a short period to become inebriated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking cost the country an estimated $249 billion in 2010.

A recent study, titled “Extended Amygdala to Ventral Tegmental Area Corticotropin-Releasing Factor Circuit Controls Binge Ethanol Intake,” attributes binge drinking in adolescents to a specific brain circuit. The research by the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry in March 2016, claimed to discover a path between two regions in the brain that affects binge drinking.

Earlier researches had identified the role of two brain regions – the extended amygdala and the ventral tegmental area – in binge drinking, but for the first time, scientists have revealed the path between the two areas as a functional circuit linked by long projection neurons producing a substance called corticotropin releasing factor (CRF).

Author of the study Todd Thiele of UNC-Chapel Hill’s College of Arts and Sciences, said, “The puzzle is starting to come together, and is telling us more than we ever knew about before. We now know that two brain regions that modulate stress and reward are part of a functional circuit that controls binge drinking and adds to the idea that manipulating the CRF system is an avenue for treating it.”

Importance of identifying alternative targets for treating alcoholism

When someone drinks heavily over a long period, the brain may undergo serious deficits that persist even after he achieves sobriety. In their study on mice, the scientists explained how alcohol triggers the CRF neurons in the extended amygdala, which, in turn, acts on the ventral tegmental area resulting in heavy or binge drinking.

The study showed how alcohol affects the brain and whether such an impact on the brain can be reversed or not still remains a subject of discussion. Elucidating the importance of the study, Thiele said, “It’s very important that we continue to try to identify alternative targets for treating alcohol use disorders. If you can stop somebody from binge drinking, you might prevent them from ultimately becoming alcoholics. We know that people who binge drink, especially in their teenage years, are much more likely to become alcoholic-dependent later in life.”

Path to recovery

According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, every year 3.3 million deaths (5.9 percent of all the deaths) result from alcohol. An excessive alcohol intake is a causal factor for more than 200 diseases. Alcohol addiction can have adverse effects on the psychological development of a person,  leading to various mental disorders. Recovery from alcohol addiction is never easy as people tend to relapse during the course of recovery which does not necessarily mean giving up alcohol at once. In fact, it is all about being positive and adopting certain holistic lifestyle changes that aid long-term recovery.

Alcoholism treatment needs a continued care which can help prevent relapses and also ensure that sobriety is a long-term process. Support from family, friends and support groups can go a long way in helping an individual completely recover from alcoholism. The aftercare programs are also equally important as they can thwart any cravings and temptations to drink again.

If a loved one has become an alcoholic, call the Colorado Alcohol Addiction Helpline at 24/7 helpline number 866-592-9261 for immediate assistance and information about various alcohol rehabs in Colorado. We can assist you find the best alcohol treatment in Colorado.

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