In a study from the University of Illinois Chicago, scientists found that even small quantities of alcohol can trigger changes in a brain area that is crucial in addiction.
They say that the pathways involved in priming the brain for addiction are the same ones that are associated with the highs of drinking, like euphoria and anxiolysis.
This suggests that when the brain experiences the anti-anxiety effects of alcohol and the mood lift—the relaxation and the buzz—it is also being primed for alcohol use disorder.
While the study does not suggest, for example, that one drink leads to addiction in humans, it does provide some clues as to why some people are more vulnerable to alcohol use disorder.
The team says that dependent behaviors may not always be from long-term, high-quantity habits but a result of rapid epigenetic changes in the brain, which may start happening even at low doses.
In the experiments, rodents were exposed to low concentrations of alcohol and their behaviors were observed as they explored a maze.
The researchers found that a gene called Hif3a was associated with changes in the brain after alcohol exposure and behaviors.
Alcohol increased Hif3a expression, even after low doses of exposure, and reduced anxiety.
And, while many effects of alcohol are different among males and females, there was no difference between the two in this study.
The team found that low doses, what we consider ‘social drinking,’ changes the gene expression in the amygdala, a brain region that regulates anxiety.
In other words, it creates an epigenetic pathway for addiction.
The team also found when Hif3a was blocked, anxiety was increased in control rats, mimicking withdrawal from chronic alcohol exposure. On the other hand, this also prevented the anti-anxiety effects of alcohol.
The team says it’s important to know that low doses created priming for addiction.
For people, the takeaway is simple—don’t assume social drinking or even “pandemic drinking” is without risk.
If you care about health, please read studies about how Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and the best time to take vitamins to prevent heart disease.
For more information about health, please see recent studies that olive oil may help you live longer, and vitamin D could help lower the risk of autoimmune diseases.
The study was conducted by Subhash Pandey et al and published in Molecular Psychiatry.
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