Targeting specific neurons can help get rid of alcohol dependence: Study

Targeting specific neurons can help get rid of alcohol dependence: Study

Drinking on a frequent basis can cause alcohol addiction. Prior studies have indicated how recurrent alcohol use can result in activation of certain groups of neurons. Excessive drinking increases activation in the neuronal “circuit” which then aggravates drinking habits and addiction. Researchers had suggested the possibility of the creation of a special path in the brain, between alcohol and reward.

In a recent study, The Scripps Research Institute examined if there was any way to influence only the specific neurons forming these circuits. These neurons constitute only about 5 percent of the total number of neurons in the brain’s amygdala, responsible for emotions of both fear and pleasure.

Specific neurons can also help reverse alcohol dependence

The study, titled “Recruitment of a Neuronal Ensemble in the Central Nucleus of the Amygdala Is Required for Alcohol Dependence,” is based on the assumption that there may be some method to switch off the urge to drink. The study analyzed how a group of brain cells in rats was responsible for immoderate drinking. Stressing on the level of accuracy needed to conduct the research, first author of the study Giordano de Guglielmo said, “It is very challenging to target such a small population of neurons in the brain, but this study helps to increase our knowledge of a part of the brain that is still a mystery.”

The study, published online in The Journal of Neuroscience in September 2016, found that dependence on alcohol can be reversed by targeting this group of neurons. The researchers indicated that administering a compound that renders a specific area of the amygdala inactive helps eliminate the urge to drink in alcohol-dependent rats. It was also observed that the rats also experienced decreased rate of withdrawal symptoms.

Unwarranted withdrawal symptoms also absent

The researchers initially provided training to laboratory rats to self-administer alcohol, thus, resulting in some of them becoming heavily dependent on it. The rats were then injected a compound that de-activated alcohol-linked brain cells. It was found that there was a complete stop to compulsive drinking in rats during the state of inactivity of the brain cells. This change in drinking habit lasted for several weeks, with the animals behaving as if they were never dependent on alcohol. Elucidating the findings, lead author of the study Olivier George from TSRI said, “We’ve never seen an effect that strong that has lasted for several weeks.” Unwarranted withdrawal symptoms like shakiness were also absent till the effect of the compound lasted.

The same compound, however, failed to exhibit similar results in rats that had been binge drinking but were not observed to be dependent on alcohol, thus, indicating a clear distinction between the inclination to abuse alcohol and an addiction to it. The findings also suggested the need to identify the particular brain mechanism that plays a role in the transformation from binge drinking to alcohol addiction.

The findings are limited in the sense that the research was targeted at rats’ brains in a lab. The need to understand the implication of the results obtained on human brains arises from the fact that millions of Americans are addicted to alcohol. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, nearly 16.3 million adults, aged 18 and above, had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2014. And during the same year, 617,000 teenagers aged between 12 and 17 years suffered from AUD.

Recovery from alcohol addiction is possible

If you or your loved one requires help for alcohol abuse, seek assistance from one of the reputed alcohol addiction treatment facilities in California. The Alcohol Addiction Helpline of California can connect you to one of the best alcohol rehab centers in California. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 855-980-1715 or chat online to know more about treatment centers for alcohol addiction in California.

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