Could Alcoholism Be Controlled with a Switch
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Why is it so hard for some people to control their drinking? Twenty percent of adults will drink heavily in their lifetime and only half will cut back even in poor health. So why do they do it? We’ve guessed without much evidence the reasons: genetics, brain chemistry, society and culture. But new research now points to brain circuitry as a biomarker to identify people predisposed to alcoholism.

So at first scientists believed binge drinking led to brain changes that led to compulsive drinking. But in this study, using an animal model, scientists could predict which animals would drink compulsively the very first time they drank alcohol. Based on how the mice behaved, they were divided into low, high, and compulsive drinkers. The compulsive group continued drinking even when they were given adverse stimuli.

Advanced cell imaging of nerve cells in two areas of the brain were taken: behavior control and response to adverse events. It showed that nerve cell communication between the two brain regions was different in the compulsive group. This was then used as the biomarker for compulsive drinking.

Then researchers applied optogenetics to turn that circuit on or off and guess what? Turning it on or off increased or decreased the amount of compulsive drinking in mice. If this is the same circuit for other compulsive disorders, what a lead especially if the same circuit exists in humans. If so, millions who suffer from compulsive disorders could benefit.

For more information…

Brain biomarker predicts compulsive drinking
Scientists discover brain circuit in mice that controls compulsive drinking of alcohol...

A cortical-brainstem circuit predicts and governs compulsive alcohol drinking
Most people are exposed to alcohol at some point in their lives, but only a small fraction will develop a compulsive drinking disorder. Siciliano et al. first established a behavioral measure to assess how predisposition interacts with experience to produce compulsive drinking in a subset of mice (see the Perspective by Nixon and Mangieri). In search of the underlying neurobiological mechanism, they discovered that a discrete circuit between the medial prefrontal cortex and brainstem is central for the development of compulsive drinking...

Compelled to drink: Why some cannot stop
Excessive alcohol drinking, a component cause of more than 200 diseases, is a leading cause of preventable death. The loss of control over alcohol drinking to the point of compulsion—consuming alcohol despite negative consequences—is the defining characteristic of an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Almost 20% of adults worldwide engage in heavy alcohol drinking episodes in their lifetime, and only half of heavy drinkers in the United States are able to cut down or quit drinking when faced with adverse health consequences of their drinking...