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Researchers reveal brain-based factor in alcoholism

If someone you love have developed an addiction – be it to alcohol, prescription pills or some other illicit substance – one of the most challenging things to accept is that, at a certain point, what began as a choice has become a disease. Once a habit takes hold, an individual is no longer in control of their alcohol or drug use. Instead, their brain is actively driving them to get their next fix.

As we've documented, many factors play a role in an individual's risk of abusing alcohol or narcotics. Genetics have long been known to increase someone's susceptibility to addiction, and now researchers have uncovered another biological element that may be involved.

"We know that some people are much more vulnerable to alcoholism than others, just like some people have a vulnerability to cancer or heart disease," says Jeff Weiner, Ph.D, a physiology and pharmacology professor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. According to ScienceDaily, Weiner leads the Translational Studies on Early-Life Stress and Vulnerability to Alcohol Addiction project  at the center.

Using a protocol devised by Brazilian researchers, Weiner and his team set up an animal model to gauge how different mice responded to the same amounts of alcohol, both in terms of visible signs of intoxication to neurological changes shown through brain scans. They discovered that certain animals were more prone to "locomotor sensitization" – the process by which consistent exposure to alcohol, rather than acting as a depressant, "creates a mellowing effect that results in greater activity," Weiner explained.

Mice who displayed this characteristic were more likely to drink greater amounts of alcohol when it was supplied. Neurologically, they also showed a lack of a certain brain neuroplasticity that causes cells to adapt and change in response to events.

This finding, the researchers noted, could open the door to improved alcohol intervention and treatment methods.

Is someone you love an alcoholic? If so, professional interventionists can help. Contact Intervention Services today to learn how to approach your friend or family member's addiction issues.

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