Research shows important cause of alcohol addiction

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Alcohol addiction, also known as alcohol use disorder, is one of the most widespread and serious mental health issues.

According to a report by the World Health Organization in 2018, over 3 million deaths each year are linked to alcohol use worldwide. Additionally, harmful alcohol use is responsible for 5.1% of the global burden of disease.

Researchers at the University of Warwick have discovered that the physical cause of alcohol addiction lies in a network within the human brain that controls our response to danger. This study, led by Professor Jianfeng Feng, was published in Science Advances.

The medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC), located at the front of the brain, detects unpleasant or emergency situations.

It then sends this information to the dorsal periaqueductal gray (dPAG), a core part of the brain that processes whether we need to escape the situation. This brain network plays a crucial role in how we respond to negative experiences.

The research team analyzed MRI brain scans from the IMAGEN dataset, which includes 2000 individuals from the UK, Germany, France, and Ireland who participate in scientific research. The participants underwent functional MRI scans while performing tasks.

When they did not receive rewards in these tasks, leading to negative feelings, the regulation between the mOFC and dPAG was more inhibited in participants who had shown signs of alcohol abuse.

The researchers found that a person is at higher risk of developing alcohol use disorders when there is an imbalance in the information pathway between the mOFC and dPAG. There are two main ways this imbalance occurs:

Alcohol Inhibits the dPAG: The dPAG is responsible for processing adverse situations. When alcohol inhibits this part of the brain, the brain cannot properly respond to negative signals or the need to escape from danger. As a result, a person only feels the benefits of drinking alcohol, not its harmful effects. This can lead to compulsive drinking.

Over-Excited dPAG: A person with alcohol addiction often has an over-excited dPAG. This makes them feel like they are in a constant state of distress or discomfort that they wish to escape from. They may urgently turn to alcohol to alleviate these feelings, leading to impulsive drinking.

Understanding how alcohol addiction forms in the brain could help develop better treatments for this global issue.

By identifying the brain areas involved in addiction, scientists can work on creating interventions that target these specific pathways, potentially reducing the prevalence of alcohol use disorder and its devastating effects on individuals and society.

In summary, alcohol addiction is deeply rooted in how our brain processes negative experiences. The findings from the University of Warwick provide valuable insights into the mechanisms behind this addiction, offering hope for more effective solutions to combat this pervasive problem.

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