Scientists Discover Biomarker for Compulsive Drinking Behavior
Sat, April 10, 2021

Scientists Discover Biomarker for Compulsive Drinking Behavior

Alcoholism is a serious problem. It can destroy relationships and families, and in worst cases, it can lead to fatal diseases such as liver cirrhosis / Photo by: Syda Productions via Shutterstock


Alcoholism is a serious problem. It can destroy relationships and families, and in worst cases, it can lead to fatal diseases such as liver cirrhosis. In the new study that was published recently, researchers claimed that they can predict future alcoholic behavior, which means they can potentially deter a person from becoming a compulsive alcohol drinker. 


What Is Alcoholism?

According to the Mayo Clinic, an academic medical center that also publishes medical news, alcohol use disorder or alcoholism, is the pattern of alcohol intake that involves problems controlling a person’s drinking and their behavior after the consumption. Unhealthy alcohol use induces any behavior that puts a person’s safety at risk and it can also cause other alcohol-related problems. 

Alcohol use disorder often has a negative impact on the immediate people surrounding the alcoholic person. It can also severely affect the way they function in their daily tasks. Even a mild alcohol use disorder can escalate quickly to severe alcoholism, hence it is important to seek professional treatment at an early stage. 

Interestingly, a newly published study claimed that there is a way to properly detect and predict a person’s alcoholic behavior in the future through specific brain activity, and the findings were published in the Science journal. 

Alcohol use disorder often has a negative impact on the immediate people surrounding the alcoholic person. It can also severely affect the way they function in their daily tasks / Photo by: fizkes via Shutterstock


Specific Brain Circuit for Alcohol Drinking

In a new study done by the Salk Institute, researchers claimed that they have discovered a specific brain circuit that controls alcohol drinking behavior in mice and it can be used as a biomarker for predicting if an individual is prone to developing alcoholism later in life. The study is said to give a new understanding of human binge drinking behaviors and even addiction. 

Kay Tye, an author of the study and a professor of Systems Neurobiology Laboratory and holder of the Wylie Vale chair, explained that their research bridges the gap between circuit analysis and alcohol addiction and it also provides an insight as to how compulsive alcohol drinking can develop in the brain across time. She also hoped that their landmark result of finding a new brain circuit that accurately predicts which mice can develop compulsive alcohol drinking can really help people who are prone to substance abuse and deter compulsive consumption of alcohol later in life. 

The National Institutes of Health described alcohol use disorder as a chronic brain disease that makes a person drink compulsively, usually to the point of excessiveness that they cannot control what they are doing. In previous research on this topic, scientists focused on examining the brain after a drinking disorder already developed. However, in this new study, the Salk Institute team wanted to discover specific brain circuits that are responsible for a predisposition for compulsive drinking that can potentially be a deterrent in the future, as reported on Science Daily, a neuroscience and human behavior website. 

A Test to Predict Compulsive Drinking Behavior

According to Cody Siciliano, the first author of the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University, the researchers initially thought that the brain is altered by binge drinking behavior and it ultimately drives the person to consume more alcohol compulsively. However, they proved that it can actually be predicted who will develop a compulsive drinking disorder in mice, even just after the first time they drank. 

The team created a test called a binge-induced compulsion task in order to examine how susceptible the mice are to excessive alcohol consumption after they were given the substance the first time. This test allowed the researchers to examine alcohol consumption as well as the negative consequences of that action. They observed that the mice can be sorted into three groups—low drinkers, high drinkers, and compulsive drinkers—and found that compulsive drinkers showed insensitivity to negative consequences.

Moreover, the team also used a brain imaging system that is called the microendoscopic single-cell resolution calcium imaging that is used to chart the cells and brain regions prior to drinking, during the drinking, and after consumption. They had to look for specific neuron activity in the two regions in the brain that is mainly responsible for the behavioral control and responding to adverse events, namely the medial prefrontal cortex and the periaqueductal gray matter. 

The researchers discovered that the development of compulsive alcohol consumption was directly related to a specific neural communication pattern between the two regions of the brain that were being observed. Furthermore, the team used optogenetics to control the activity of the neural pathway using light, and by turning that specific brain circuit on and off, they were able to discover how to increase or reduce the compulsive drinking behavior. 

According to Tye, they can now look into the brain and find specific activity patterns that can predict and predetermine which mice will become a compulsive drinker in the future even before the disorder develops. The team does not yet know whether the same brain circuits can also predict other kinds of compulsive behaviors such as other substance abuse disorders. However, it is part of their research interest in the future.

This can be a very revolutionary medical technique once they are able to use it on humans because it can help people avoid becoming an alcoholic since they can already predict whether or not they are prone to doing so. This can save lives and give people have the opportunity to lead a healthier life.