Millions of people in the United States and abroad suffer from alcoholism, having difficulty controlling their urge to drink heavily. However, scientists say that they have now identified a particular neuron that once activated, can help a person stop drinking alcohol. The team at Texas A&M University is confident that this could be a huge step forward in the fight against alcoholism, and may even work to prevent people from drinking in the first place.
In 2015, a study was conducted which showed that drinking alcohol changes the function and physical nature of spiny neurons, which make their home in the brain’s dorsomedial striatum. During this study, it was also found that the D1 neuron helps the brain decide whether one drink has a domino effect, leading to more drinking.
Scientists explain the neurons as trees with tiny branches, or spines, which “grow” out of them. Each neuron has the D1 and D2 dopamine receptors, which are known as D1 and D2 neurons. D2 neurons are what discourages further action and helps keep addiction at bay.
However, D2 receptors become deactivated in the brain when one consumes too much alcohol, even if you don’t suffer from alcoholism, which contributes to binge drinking.
Jun Wang, assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine stated:
“At least from the addiction point of view, D2 neurons are good. When they are activated, they inhibit drinking behavior, and therefore activating them is important for preventing problem drinking behavior.”
The researchers tested out their theory on several animals, which led to the conclusion that when excessive alcohol is consumed, even after a period of abstinence, the D2 neurons actually become less active and sensitive over time. This causes a person to go back to drinking, even if they are in “recovery.”
However, by manipulating the neurons, it was found in the animal trials that “turning on” the D2 neurons resulted in less alcohol consumption, even after a long period of abstinence.
Trials on humans will still have to take place in order to determine the overall efficacy. But so far, it presents a compelling and exciting possible aid in helping alcohols recover and may lead to medication or treatment to do so.