WHAT MAKES ALCOHOL SO ADDICTIVE?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that more than 15 million Americans suffer from an alcohol use disorder. Worldwide, that number is believed to be an eye-popping 240 million. These shocking figures beg the question—what makes alcohol so addictive?
Scientists have long known that the positive feelings experienced during alcohol use result from alcohol’s effect on the reward center in the brain. Researchers are still working to identify more precisely the specific areas of the brain most affected and the way alcohol interacts with those areas.
A recent study explored this issue by comparing the differences in how the reward center of the brain responds to alcohol use in heavy and light drinkers. The researchers found that for both groups, drinking alcohol caused the release of endorphins, a naturally-occurring opioid, in two specific parts of the brain that control reward processing. Heavy drinkers, however, released more endorphins in response to drinking alcohol than light drinkers, and also reported more feelings of intoxication after drinking the same amount of alcohol.
The researchers believe their study may show that people whose brain naturally releases more endorphins may be more likely to develop an alcohol addiction, paving the way to possible improvements in alcohol treatment medications that work by blocking opioid receptors.
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