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Scientists link addiction to booze with dopamine and see potential cure for alcoholism

March 10, 13:56 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Any case of alcohol intoxication causes a large release of dopamine, a chronic alcoholic experiences a simplified behavior and he starts looking for a new possibility to consume alcohol

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© Viktor Drachev/TASS

MOSCOW, March 10. /TASS/ A team of researchers from the Higher School of Economics (HSE), The Ecole Normale Superieure (ENS Paris), Indiana University, and the Nizhny Novgorod Institute of Applied Physics RAS have pinned down possible sources triggering alcohol addiction, the HSE press office said. The root of this vice can be traced to a neurotransmitter in the brain known as dopamine.

"In this recent study, scientists learned the probable source of alcohol’s impact on neuron activity is generated by dopamine," the report stated.

The neuro-mediator dopamine is a biologically active chemical substance which affects the brain’s "the reward center" that whips up an anticipation of pleasure from a certain action or the pleasure by itself if an enjoyable event occurs unexpectedly.

Dopamine’s "rewarding" feature fuels the frequency of "favorable" actions, therefore, dopamine plays a key role in stimulating the learning process. If the prediction has appeared to be wrong or an unpleasant event has taken place, the amount of released dopamine drops down leading to a feeling of "disappointment" and reluctance toward the action in question producing such consequences.

Researchers have discovered that the alcohol might alter the activity of neurons generating dopamine and force them to release it in any case, whether or not the result is consistent with the one expected. That means that every motivation related to alcohol is ‘rewarded’.

Any case of alcohol intoxication causes a large release of dopamine, a chronic alcoholic experiences a simplified behavior and he starts looking for a new possibility to consume alcohol. He either does not comprehend the consequences of his actions, or does so, but it has almost no impact on his behavior. According to the research, an alcoholic realizes that he can end up on the street, lose his family or even die if he goes on endless boozing binges, but all these facts won’t stop him. To adequately estimate the consequences of these actions, the neurons should really release less dopamine if an action is negative and provide a negative reinforcement, but this does not happen since alcohol influences the neurons causing the disturbances in the learning system.

However, if researchers are able to "force" dopamine to function in a balanced way, to properly respond to stimulus from the surroundings with alcohol present in the body, science could help people suffering from alcoholism.

This study was carried out with the support from America’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, while the numerical modeling and analysis are the parts of a project financially supported by the Ministry of Education of Russian Federation.

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