Alcohol: the chemistry of the dark side

August 24, 1999

Shifts in brain chemicals explain causes of alcoholism, relapses

New studies of the effects of alcohol on brain chemistry help to explain why alcoholics experience long-lasting feelings of tension and distress. They also provide a key to why some drinkers develop alcoholism in the first place, and why they tend to relapse, even after protracted abstinence. The studies were described here today at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

George F. Koob, Ph.D., a scientist at The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, said animal studies indicate that heavy drinking depletes the brain's supplies of dopamine, gamma aminobutyric acid, opioid peptides and serotonin systems--chemicals that are responsible for our feelings of pleasure and well-being. At the same time, it promotes the release of stress chemicals, such as corticotropin releasing factor (CRF), that create tension and depression. In combination, the depletion of pleasure chemicals and the stimulation of stress chemicals creates a persisting chemical imbalance that leaves the alcoholic vulnerable to relapse, he said.

Hoping to suppress the dark feelings aroused by CRF, alcoholics drink more-but the more they drink, the more CRF is produced. This cycle ultimately raises the "set point" for alcohol intake, or the amount it takes to make an alcoholic feel "normal," according to Koob. He says some data from animal studies suggest that CRF remains active as long as four weeks after someone stops drinking.

At present, family history is the only indicator of vulnerability to alcoholism. Among individuals who have an alcoholic parent, men have a five-to-one chance, and women a two- or three-to-one chance of developing the disease, said Koob. His study could point the way toward the identification of specific chemical markers-as an example, perhaps low levels of dopamine and high levels of CRF that could better warn of danger ahead.
-end-
Dr. Koob will present his paper, MEDI 157, on Monday, August 23, at 9:45 a.m., at the Convention Center, R09

A nonprofit organization with a membership of nearly 159,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society publishes scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio. ( http://www.acs.org)

American Chemical Society

Related Dopamine Articles from Brightsurf:

Dopamine surge reveals how even for mice, 'there's no place like home'
''There's no place like home,'' has its roots deep in the brain.

New dopamine sensors could help unlock the mysteries of brain chemistry
In 2018, Tian Lab at UC Davis Health developed dLight1, a single fluorescent protein-based biosensor.

Highly sensitive dopamine detector uses 2D materials
A supersensitive dopamine detector can help in the early diagnosis of several disorders that result in too much or too little dopamine, according to a group led by Penn State and including Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and universities in China and Japan.

Dopamine neurons mull over your options
Researchers at the University of Tsukuba have found that dopamine neurons in the brain can represent the decision-making process when making economic choices.

Viewing dopamine receptors in their native habitat
A new study led by UT Southwestern researchers reveals the structure of the active form of one type of dopamine receptor, known as D2, embedded in a phospholipid membrane.

Significant differences exist among neurons expressing dopamine receptors
An international collaboration, which included the involvement of the research team from the Institut de Neurociències of the UAB (INC-UAB), has shown that neurons expressing dopamine D2 receptors have different molecular features and functions, depending on their anatomical localization within the striatum.

How dopamine drives brain activity
Using a specialized magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) sensor that can track dopamine levels, MIT neuroscientists have discovered how dopamine released deep within the brain influences distant brain regions.

Novelty speeds up learning thanks to dopamine activation
Brain scientists led by Sebastian Haesler (NERF, empowered by IMEC, KU Leuven and VIB) have identified a causal mechanism of how novel stimuli promote learning.

Evidence in mice that childhood asthma is influenced by the neurotransmitter dopamine
Neurons that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine communicate with T cells to enhance allergic inflammation in the lungs of young mice but not older mice, researchers report Nov.

Chronic adversity dampens dopamine production
People exposed to a lifetime of psychosocial adversity may have an impaired ability to produce the dopamine levels needed for coping with acutely stressful situations.

Read More: Dopamine News and Dopamine Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.