Research shows big cause of alcohol addiction in the brain

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Researchers from the University of Warwick, along with international collaborators, have made a significant breakthrough in understanding the brain mechanisms involved in alcoholism.

This chronic disease not only causes uncontrolled drinking but also creates a strong physical and emotional dependence on alcohol.

The recent study pinpointed the physical origin of alcohol addiction within a specific brain network that controls our response to perceived threats or emergencies.

Key to this network are two areas of the brain: the medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC) located at the front and the dorsal periaqueductal gray (dPAG) situated at the core of the brain.

The mOFC detects unpleasant or emergency situations and communicates this to the dPAG, which then decides whether escape is necessary.

Researchers discovered that imbalances in this pathway significantly increase the risk of developing alcohol use disorders. Alcohol consumption affects the dPAG by inhibiting its function, preventing the brain from responding appropriately to negative signals.

This leads individuals to predominantly experience the pleasurable effects of alcohol, without fully recognizing its detrimental side effects, potentially leading to compulsive drinking.

Furthermore, in individuals with alcohol addiction, the dPAG is often overly active. This heightened activity can make them feel as though they are constantly in adverse situations from which they need to escape, prompting them to turn to alcohol impulsively.

This insight was supported by previous studies using rodent models, which indicated that the mPFC (medial prefrontal cortex) and dPAG could be crucial in the development of alcohol dependence.

Building on this, the team analyzed MRI brain scans from the IMAGEN dataset, which includes 2000 individuals from the UK, Germany, France, and Ireland.

These participants are part of a larger study aimed at understanding how various factors influence brain development and mental health during adolescence.

During the study, participants underwent task-based functional MRI scans. Those who exhibited signs of alcohol abuse showed significantly reduced regulation between the mOFC and dPAG when they did not receive rewards during the tasks, which produced feelings akin to punishment.

Understanding the specific brain mechanisms involved in alcohol addiction provides a clearer target for developing effective interventions. Such knowledge is crucial given the severity of the global alcohol abuse problem.

According to a 2018 WHO report, over 3 million deaths each year are related to alcohol use, which also accounts for 5.1% of the global burden of disease.

With this deeper understanding of the neural pathways involved in alcoholism, researchers are hopeful that more tailored and effective treatments can be developed to combat this pervasive issue.

For those interested in related health topics, recent studies have explored the root causes of alcohol addiction and the impact of alcohol, coffee, and tea consumption on cognitive decline.

Additional research has investigated the relationship between alcohol abuse and dementia, as well as innovative approaches to treating alcohol-associated liver disease.

This pivotal research, led by Professor Jianfeng Feng and published in Science Advances, marks a crucial step forward in the battle against alcohol-related disorders and highlights the complex interplay between our brain’s structure and addictive behaviors.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about Vitamin B9 deficiency linked to higher dementia risk, and cranberries could help boost memory.

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