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Stress and alcohol addiction: The chicken, the egg and the answer inside

Adams_infoblog_SovAddiction_Stress and Alcohol Addiction_20150413

Stress and alcohol seem to go hand in hand for people. Alcohol consumption can be a response to stressful or uncomfortable situations; conversely, alcohol may cause stress and definitely some uncomfortable situations. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, NIAAA, through the National Institute of Health, NIH, revealed a study showing a stress-related molecule in the brain may help in the treatment of alcohol addiction.

Robert M. Anthenelli, M.D., summarizes the discovery in “Alcohol Research: Current Review Vol. 34,” “In short, whereas drinking may help the person cope with stress in the short-term, there is a longer-term cost.” Where alcohol is thought to have a calming effect for stressful situations, it actually can cause more stress in a person’s life. The longer-term cost is an addiction to alcohol and having everyday situations being more stressful without it. There are studies showing specific chemicals and proteins in the brain connecting to stress-induced alcoholism.

Markus Heilig, Clinical Director of the NIAAA, and his colleagues conducted a study on mice in regards to brain receptor neurokinin 1, nicknamed NK1R, being the direct cause of drinking due to stress. They genetically modified certain mice to lack NK1R and discovered that the mice naturally consumed much less alcohol than the normal mice. By isolating the NK1R in the brain or in finding a way to counter it, scientists may be able to use a new form of treatment for stress-induced alcohol addiction. This study is one of many that attempt to uncover new ways to combat alcohol addiction.

This does not mean that there is a cure all answer for alcohol addiction or Alcoholism in general. Anthenelli also writes, “However, when one considers that stress responsivity is governed by a host of factors related to the characteristics of the stressor and the characteristics of the individual, some of this heterogeneity in findings can be explained.” Since people have different reactions to stress and different mental backgrounds, it is not as simple as pinpointing one cause for all. With the differences between alcoholics and habits, there are also similarities which occur in the chemical reactions of the brain. These similarities are what help researchers to discover possible treatments.

A recent study on binge drinking being conducted at the NIAAA has found another component which may be connected to alcohol addiction. The researchers are lead by Thomas L. Kash, Ph.D. The study tests two separate proteins which affect alcohol consumption and stress in the brain. The protein — corticotropin releasing factor, or CRF, increases anxiety in the brain. Another protein, Neuropeptide Y, NPY, is described by the NIAAA as being “known to reduce binge drinking and anxiety.”

While CRF increases anxiety in the brain with or without alcohol consumption, binge drinking has been found to augment CRF in the brain. The interaction of CRF with NPY during binge drinking is the main focus of the study. If NPY is a response to CRF during binge drinking, researchers may be able to form a new medication or treatment focusing on that protein in the brain. With this information, they can begin to explore how trying to regulate the amount of one protein over another can treat alcohol addiction and binge drinking.

There is still much to understand about how these chemicals interact with each other, but the research is displaying more possibilities of treating alcoholics, binge drinking and alcoholism. Sovereign Health Group believes each person has a unique treatment for his or her addiction and we can help in starting the path towards recovery and avoiding relapse. If you feel immediate help is needed, please call us at: 866-576-4147.

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