Neurotransmitter induces alcohol cravings, says study

Alcohol addiction has been a common issue affecting millions in the United States. According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 136.7 million individuals aged 12 or older were using alcohol in 2016.

As per the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), approximately 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, are affected by alcohol abuse or dependence. Moreover, a large proportion of youngsters and adults engage in risky drinking patterns, such as binge drinking, responsible for exacerbating alcohol-related problems.

A number of factors, such as environment, traumatic experiences, biological factors or genetics, play a pivotal role in increasing the chances of alcohol abuse. However, scientists have achieved no major feat in understanding the biological underpinnings of alcohol addiction. A new study conducted by the Indiana University to determine the neurochemical changes related to alcohol addiction revealed that the neurotransmitter glutamate plays a crucial role in inciting some alcohol cravings.

As per the study, published in January 2018 in the journal of Alcohol and Alcoholism, since most patients tend to relapse within four years of the treatment of alcohol addiction, the finding will add value to the ongoing treatment measures. It will assist scientists and medical practitioners to target the right areas, like glutamate levels for the effective outcomes of alcohol addiction treatment.

What glutamate does

The study is based on one of the findings of a previous research — the sights and sounds linked to substances like cocaine or alcohol affect the glutamate levels in the brains of rats addicted to such addictive substances. These sights and sounds are called cues as they make the rats crave more for the previously abused substance.

“Glutamate is the real workhorse of all transmitters in the brain. Dopamine is the more popularly known neurotransmitter, a lack of which contributes to depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Parkinson’s disease – but it actually accounts for less than 5 percent of all synaptic activity. By contrast, glutamate accounts for about 50 percent of this activity and is especially involved in the reward-motivation circuits integral to addiction,” said George Rebec, professor emeritus in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

For the new study, researchers selected around 35 participants, including 17 with alcohol use disorder (AUD) and 18 without it. Thereafter, the concentrations of glutamate in the participants were measured using a technology called magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS).

The researchers found that the chemical level in those affected by AUD decreased due to the exposure to the cues associated with drinking, such as a photograph of a glass filled with alcohol, compared to the neutral photos. The other set of participants displayed no signs of change in glutamate levels on viewing the same images.

Seek treatment to win the fight against alcohol addiction

Understanding the role of glutamate in alcohol addiction will make it easier for the researchers to find newer ways to treat the condition. Rather than administering treatment measures that take time to display results, the fixing of the root cause of the problem directly can prove to be the best way to curb alcohol addiction.

It is important to know that alcoholism is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the U.S. Therefore, it is important to ensure necessary steps against the problem on time to avoid any repercussions to one’s life, health, relationships, etc. In case the condition affects anyone, it is important to seek help immediately to avoid the worsening of condition.

If someone you know is affected by alcoholism and is looking for alcohol rehab centers in Florida, the Florida Alcohol Addiction Helpline can assist you. Our representatives can connect you to one of the best alcohol rehabilitation centers in Florida. Call at our 24/7 Florida alcohol addiction helpline 866-220-5381 or chat online to know about the best treatment in your vicinity.