“Why, yes, sir, I will have another.”
It’s likely that at some point in your life you’ve had that second (or third, or fourth) alcoholic drink when you didn’t really want or need it. (Or, if this has never happened to you personally, then you’ve probably seen it happen to others.) The logical question, then, is why? Once we’ve started, why do we keep drinking when we know we shouldn’t?
It has to do with how alcohol influences the dopamine receptors in our brain. Dopamine is the brain’s “feel good” chemical, and when a drug like alcohol gets into our system, dopamine signals tell us that we want more and more of it. This is logical enough (and not new), but researchers from Texas A&M wanted to dive a little deeper––specifically to try to understand the mechanisms underlying the connestion between dopamine and alcohol addiction.
In two separate but related studies––one last summer and one in May of this year––the researchers used mice to show that specific receptors in the brain may adapt when exposed to high levels of dopamine, reshaping itself to more readily react to the chemical.
There are two types of dopamine receptors––what the researchers call “go” and “no-go.” Essentially, what they found is that alcohol weakens both of these receptors––meaning that we are both encouraged to drink and discouraged from stopping. Not good.
But it’s not all bad either. By playing around with the amount and relationship of the two receptors, the researchers could regulate the addictive behaviors in the mice. This is encouraging, as similar solutions may be possibly used in humans in the future.
We’ve known for quite a while that alcohol lowers our inhibitions. These recent findings are interesting because they could lead to new therapeutic approaches to alcohol abuse. And maybe help stop us from having those extra drinks.
Does alcohol kill brain cells? Find out.