Alcohol Addiction Affects Dopamine Levels In Brain, Making It Harder To Catch A Buzz, Easier To Relapse

 

Alcohol is one of the most addictive substances on the planet, and for those who develop a dependency, sudden withdrawal can produce physical symptoms in the body such as shaking and delirium. But, while much is known about how alcohol withdrawal affects the body, a recent study delved deeper, and investigated how sudden alcohol withdrawal affects the brain.

For the study, now published in the online journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the Zentralinstitut für Seelische Gesundheit, a center for psychiatric medicine in Germany, first examined the brains of deceased alcoholics. Initially, they observed noticeable differences in areas of the brain associated with producing and transporting dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.

The research team found the brains of deceased alcoholics to have  fewer D1 dopamine receptors, sites in the brain where dopamine binds and excites neurons, the specialized brain cells that transmit nerve impulses. Fewer D1 receptors would make the brain less responsive to dopamine, causing an individual to struggle in order to feel the same euphoric rush from alcohol that others may experience.

The brains of deceased alcoholics also had fewer dopamine transporter sites, areas that allow for unused dopamine to be retrieved for later reuse. However, the brains weren’t lacking in D2 dopamine receptor sites, areas that bind to dopamine in order to restrain neuron excitation,IFL Science reported. According to the research, the combination of these characteristics would ultimately interfere with the brain’s ability to use dopamine, and subsequently inhibit the individual’s ability to feel pleasure.

All together, the team noted that the brains of deceased alcoholics were in a hypodopaminergic state, or a state in which dopamine levels are significantly below average. This would explain why alcoholics would continue to seek more and more alcohol in order to achieve the same pleasure. In addition to addiction, dopamine deficiencies are also often associated with conditions such as depression and psychological disorders.

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