Fruit Flies Show Alcoholism-like Behaviors

cocktail glass

A study published online in Current Biology on December 10 looks at addictive behavior in fruit flies given the chance to consume alcohol at will. Past studies on drunken fruit flies have helped researchers identify genes that have an impact on alcoholism in humans, but this latest study is one of the first to look at the behavior surrounding self-administration of alcohol in fruit flies.

The Study

Researchers found that fruit flies will consume ethanol to intoxicating levels, and will choose food containing ethanol over regular food - a preference which increases over time. Fruit flies which are forced to abstain from alcohol for a period of time will rapidly return to high levels of consumption once allowed. Although the insects don't like the taste of alcohol, they will put this aversion aside in order to consume it.

What Does This Mean?

The fact that flies will choose to partake in intoxicating levels of alcohol, despite an aversion to its taste and adverse consequences following excessive consumption, is a surprising mirror to the human condition of alcoholism. Researcher Ulrike Heberlein, of the University of California, San Francisco, says this results of this study "opens the door for us to study much more complex alcohol-related behaviors, such as 'use despite adverse consequences' and 'relapse.'" Fruit flies have proven to be an important resource for researchers studying genetic aspects of alcoholism, and it appears that they may show promise in studying more complex addictive behavior as well.

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