Scientists find a new way to treat alcohol addiction

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Struggling with alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a common issue many face. But a groundbreaking study might have found a potential one-time treatment for it.

A joint study led by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine, and including experts from other institutions, was published in the journal Nature Medicine.

The research was carried out using an accepted animal model to understand human conditions.

The study revealed that releasing a certain substance in a specific brain region could prevent those struggling with AUD from returning to heavy drinking after they’ve stopped for a while.

Plus, this doesn’t interfere with other normal behaviors.

Krystof Bankiewicz, MD, Ph.D., one of the lead researchers, explained that this gene therapy aims at the changes in the brain caused by prolonged alcohol use.

The exciting part is that it might prevent a relapse without the patient needing to follow a long-term treatment plan.

One of the biggest challenges for those with AUD is the constant cycle of stopping and starting drinking again, even when they’re on medication approved by the FDA.

This happens because excessive alcohol use changes certain brain pathways, particularly those involving dopamine, a neurotransmitter. As AUD progresses, these changes make dopamine levels in the brain go down.

Researchers believe that this reduced level of dopamine might be why people are pushed to start drinking again after trying to quit.

Kathleen Grant, Ph.D., another lead investigator, pointed out that currently, there aren’t any treatments that focus on these altered brain circuits caused by heavy alcohol use.

How They Tested It

The research involved rhesus macaque monkeys as they share similarities with humans in their reaction to alcohol.

They introduced a viral vector into their brains, which continuously released GDNF to see if it reduces alcohol use and prevents them from returning to drinking after they’ve stopped.

Half of the animals were treated with this vector, while the other half were just given a saline solution.

The results were promising: those treated with the GDNF vector showed a significant drop in alcohol consumption. Even after they were reintroduced to alcohol multiple times, their alcohol intake remained low.

In contrast, the control group (those given the saline solution) showed consistent alcohol consumption.

Bankiewicz concluded that this method could drastically reduce the urge to consume alcohol. He believes it’s worth further study, not just for AUD, but perhaps other substance-abuse disorders too.

Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder

To grasp the importance of this finding, here’s a broader picture of AUD:

  • In 2021, almost 28.6 million American adults and around 894,000 adolescents were diagnosed with AUD.
  • Approximately 12% of all people who consume alcohol fit the AUD criteria.
  • Tragically, 140,000 deaths every year in the U.S. are linked to this disorder.

The discovery of this potential gene therapy offers hope to those millions affected by AUD, suggesting a brighter, addiction-free future might be on the horizon.

If you care about alcoholism, please read studies that your age may decide whether alcohol is good or bad for you, and people over 40 need to prevent dangerous alcohol/drug interactions.

For more information about alcohol, please see recent studies about moderate alcohol drinking linked to high blood pressure, and results showing this drug combo shows promise for treating alcoholism.

The study was published in Nature Medicine.

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