The Science of Alcohol Addiction


The World Health Organization estimates that harmful alcohol use accounts for 5.1% of the global burden of disease and injury worldwide, and results in three million deaths each year. Previous studies have identified links between a person’s socioeconomic status and alcohol use, but currently it is unclear how an individual’s social class impacts their future risk of acquiring alcohol-related medical conditions, like alcoholic liver disease. Acceptance- and mindfulness-based interventions are increasingly being used to target alcohol use disorder and show evidence of efficacy in a variety of settings and formats, including brief intervention formats (76). Active ingredients include raising present moment awareness, developing a nonjudgmental approach to self and others, and increasing acceptance of present moment experiences. Acceptance- and mindfulness-based interventions are commonly delivered in group settings and can also be delivered in individual therapy contexts.

  1. As a rule of thumb, an average person can eliminate 0.5 ounces (15 ml) of alcohol per hour.
  2. During the same period, inebriate asylums emerged as a residential treatment option for excessive alcohol use, although the only treatment offered was forced abstinence from alcohol (12).
  3. Finally, we consider recent work examining how alcohol-induced plasticity manifests on the level of neural circuit activity and release of neuromodulators to influence decisions of when and how much to drink.

For example, the activity of mRNA binding protein fragile-X mental retardation protein (Fmrp), which plays an important role in translation [47], is enhanced by alcohol in the hippocampus of mice resulting in alteration in the expression of synaptic proteins [48]. Additionally, Fmrp in the hippocampus plays a role in the acute antidepressant actions of alcohol [49]. Interestingly, rapid antidepressants require coordinated actions of Fmrp and mTORC1 [50], raising the possibility that such coordination may also be relevant in the context of alcohol’s actions.

What do healthcare professionals who work with adolescents need to know about alcohol?

But when people drink more heavily than I am used to encountering, that makes me uncomfortable,” she says. Such concerns drive her to avoid certain situations entirely, such as an event on a boat, which she wouldn’t be able to leave. Although this approach has limited her opportunities to network with some colleagues, Riches says she’s found other ways to ecstasy symptoms and warning signs connect with researchers, many of whom feel the same as she does about alcohol and the workplace. It can be used to provide evidence of continuing professional development and on successful completion of the course you will be awarded 24 CPD points. Evidence of your CPD achievement is provided on the free Statement of Participation awarded on completion.

While alcoholism has devastating effects on a person’s health and social environment, there are medical and psychological ways to treat the problem. Alcohol has two noticeable effects on the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which influence sexual behavior and urinary excretion. Nerve cells talk to each other and to other cells (such as muscle or gland cells) by sending chemical messages.

Science of Addiction

Turns out our ears give off as much alcohol as our breath, so the earmuffs could be an alternative to a breathalyser. Whether or not you had a party last night, we can all agree the science of ethanol is super fascinating. Excessive drinking also inhibits the pituitary secretion of anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), which acts on the kidney to reabsorb water.

Implementation of this knowledge in clinical practice and training of health care providers is also needed to ensure appropriate diagnosis and treatment of individuals suffering from alcohol use disorder. Another area requiring further research relates to individual differences in resilience and susceptibility to AUD. Future studies are needed to better understand the mechanisms underlying these individual differences. Studies in animal models provide initial hints to possible contributors to these differences. Furthermore, rats undergoing intermittent access to 20% alcohol in 2 bottle choice paradigm exhibit distinct profiles of intake ranging from low alcohol consumers to rats that exhibit slow or rapid escalation of excessive drinking [125].

Numerous other medications have been used off label in the treatment of alcohol use disorder, and many of these have been shown to be modestly effective in meta-analyses and systematic reviews (23, 24, 26, 35). Systematic studies of these medications suggest promising findings for topiramate, ondansetron, gabapentin, and varenicline. The anticonvulsant drug topiramate represents one of the most promising medications in terms of efficacy, based on its medium effect size from several clinical trials [for a review, see (45)], including a multisite clinical study (46).

Level 5: Alcohol and protein translation

Recent studies conducted to determine whether certain patients may benefit more from naltrexone have yielded mixed findings (95). Initial evidence suggests that naltrexone may be more effective in reducing heavy drinking among smokers (101) and among those with a larger number of heavy drinkers in their social networks (102). With respect to reinforcement typologies, recent work has found that naltrexone may be more effective among those who tend to drink alcohol for rewarding effects (103), and acamprosate may also be more effective for individuals who drink to relieve negative affect (104). A third drug, the opioid receptor antagonist naltrexone, was approved for the treatment of alcohol dependence by the FDA in 1994. Later, a monthly extended-release injectable formulation of naltrexone, developed with the goal of improving patient adherence, was also approved by the FDA in 2006.

Level 7: Impact of chronic drinking on neuromodulators and neural circuits

In the United States, more than 55% of those aged 26 and older consumed alcohol in a given month, and one in four adults in this age group engaged in binge drinking (defined as more than four drinks for women and five drinks for men on a single drinking occasion) (2). Excessive alcohol use costs U.S. society more than $249 billion annually and is the fifth leading risk factor for premature death and disability (3). Recently, a previously unanticipated bipolar disorder and alcohol mechanism was identified linking alcohol metabolism to alcohol-induced epigenetic impairments by way of direct incorporation of alcohol-derived acetate into brain histone acetylation [24]. This was driven by the nuclear translocation of metabolic enzyme acetyl-CoA synthetase 2 (Acss2), inhibition of which prevented alcohol-induced changes of histone acetylation and gene expression, and blocked conditioned place preference to alcohol [24].

But the ramped-up GABA decreases the impact of the glutamate signaling in the brain. To compensate for this dip, the brain produces additional glutamate receptors over time. As alcohol levels fall after an individual stops drinking, this surplus of glutamate signals creates a temporary high-energy, high-anxiety state. The new findings are important for understanding which populations are most likely to suffer from medical conditions resulting from alcohol abuse, and contribute to a growing body of literature on health disparities that stem from socioeconomic factors. The researchers recommend that individuals with lower income or education levels might warrant additional screening by clinicians to evaluate their alcohol consumption and identify related conditions. The kinase mTOR in complex 1 (mTORC1) plays a crucial role in synaptic plasticity, learning and memory by orchestrating the translation of several dendritic proteins [39].

Since most people metabolize one standard drink each hour, unless you’ve heavily binged into the wee hours most of the alcohol will be gone by the time you wake up in the morning. This article covers the structure and classification, physical properties, commercial importance, sources, and reactions of alcohols. For more information about closely related compounds, see chemical compound, phenol, and ether. Alcohols may be classified as primary, secondary, or tertiary, according to which carbon of the alkyl group is bonded to the hydroxyl group. Alcohols of low molecular weight are highly soluble in water; with increasing molecular weight, they become less soluble in water, and their boiling points, vapour pressures, densities, and viscosities increase.

When ADH levels drop, the kidneys do not reabsorb as much water; consequently, the kidneys produce more urine. Anna Gora is a health writer at Live Science, having previously worked across Coach, Fit&Well, T3, TechRadar and Tom’s Guide. She is a certified personal trainer, nutritionist and health coach with nearly 10 years of professional experience.



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