Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease that not only can severely impact a person’ physical and psychological functioning, it also impacts their relationships with family, friends and others whom the alcoholic cares about the most. Alcoholism is also a complex disease which is made up of many psychological, social, biological and environmental factors. Over the past few decades, scientists, sociologists and other researchers have put forth extensive time and effort is trying to unravel the mysteries of how and why alcoholism develops in people. Through this research, we have come to a better understanding of the disease of alcoholism and have found better ways to treat the disease.

Of all the research conducted over the past few decades, a considerable body of work has been devoted to the biological aspects of addiction. While it is not exactly known how much a role biology plays in the formation of an addiction, it nevertheless is an essential puzzle piece that must be investigated. Recent studies have focused on the mutation of specific genes in the development of alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse. This new information will help further research and give scientists and those in the addiction treatment field new ways in creating new treatments.

Gene Mutations and the Development of Alcoholism
man with alcoholism

Researchers in England have discovered a specific gene that regulates alcohol consumption, and when this gene is mutated or faulty it can cause excessive drinking. In addition to finding this specific gene, the underlying mechanism that causes this phenomenon has also been discovered. Researchers from five British universities conducted experiments in mice in which specific parts of their genetic code were altered at random and were tested for alcohol preference.

Mice with this genetic alteration and normal mice were given a choice between drinking water or drinking a bottle of diluted alcohol. The results of this study showed that normal mice showed no interest in alcohol and drink little or no alcohol when offered a free choice between a bottle of water and a bottle of diluted alcohol. However, the mice with a genetic mutation to the gene Gabrb1 overwhelmingly preferred drinking the bottle of diluted alcohol and these mice chose to consume almost 85% of their daily fluid as drinks containing alcohol.

Additionally, the mice with the Gabrb1 mutation were willing to work to obtain the diluted alcohol mixture by pushing a lever and would do so for longer periods of time. These mice would voluntarily consume sufficient alcohol in an hour to become intoxicated and even have impaired coordination and motor skills. Dr Quentin Anstee, who was the joint lead author of the study, stated the following:

“It’s amazing to think that a small change in the code for just one gene can have such profound effects on complex behaviours like alcohol consumption. We are continuing our work to establish whether the gene has a similar influence in humans, though we know that in people alcoholism is much more complicated as environmental factors come into play. But there is the real potential for this to guide development of better treatments for alcoholism in the future.”

How Can One Specific Gene Start the Development of Alcoholism

The Gabrb1 gene is an important component to the receptor in the brain the responds to the neurotransmitter GABA. GABA is important and helping inhibit brain activity. When this specific gene has mutated or has been altered in some way, it causes this specific receptor to activate spontaneously even when the usual GABA trigger was not present. These changes were particularly noticeable in the brain region known as the nucleus accumbens which controls reward and pleasure sensations. In addition to the nucleus accumbens, alcohol also directly affects the amygdala which regulates emotions, behavior and motivation. Researchers have known for years there has been a direct correlation between GABA networks in the brain and alcohol intake. With the discovery of the role the Gabrb1 gene plays in the reinforcement of drinking behavior, researchers hope to modify this study in human populations.

The Burden of Alcoholism

Despite the attention given to drugs such as heroin and prescription medications, alcohol remains the leading drug of use and abuse in the United States. According to statistics provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), nearly one in four Americans reported they binge drank in 2013. In that same year, it was estimated that 88,000 Americans died from alcohol-related causes. Additionally, 1.3 million Americans are currently seeking treatment for alcoholism and treatment centers nationwide.

Because of its’ wide availability and acceptance in our culture, many people may be of the belief that alcohol isn’t a dangerous drug. In reality, alcohol is perhaps the most dangerous drug on the planet. According to statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), 3.3 million people worldwide die from alcohol-related causes–and that accounts for nearly six percent of all deaths worldwide.  It directly causes a wide range of diseases, from cardiovascular and neurological disorders to liver and pancreatic cancer and failure.

Alcohol also accounts for 30 percent of all fatal traffic accidents, increases risky and promiscuous behaviors and makes an enormous dent in a nation’s economy in regards to treatment costs, lost productivity and wages and legal costs. Studies such as the one highlighted in this article can help spearhead further research that will help find new and groundbreaking treatments and interventions that will help people struggling with alcohol abuse lead healthier and happier lives in recovery.

Are You Struggling With Alcoholism? Ocean Breeze Recovery Center Can Help!

The impacts of alcohol abuse can be devastating, and those who have struggled with the drug long-term need professional help. If you or a loved one is looking for help in addressing your alcohol abuse, the treatment professionals at Ocean Breeze Recovery Center can help. We offer evidence-based alcohol rehab programs that are proven to work. Our unique holistic-based treatment philosophy and individualized treatment plans will give you the tools you need to address the totality of your addiction in mind, body and spirit. Call us toll-free today.

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