Scientists Discover Cause of Hangovers
A new study points to neuropeptides as a cause of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
A group of neuroscientists from the University of Southampton's School of Biological Sciences examined the brains of elegans worms in order to learn more about how alcohol affects brain function in humans. Although worm brains are exceedingly simple, they exhibit similar behaviors to the human brain in response to alcohol. The researchers found that drinking alcohol has a significant effect on the brain when done over a long period of time—specifically, a brain exposed to long-term alcohol use adapts to being intoxicated. This causes withdrawal symptoms (a hangover) when alcohol consumption is stopped. A brain-signaling molecule known as the neuropeptide was found to play a significant role in the effect alcohol has on the body's brain and nervous system.
As many frequent drinkers would expect, worms who were given small amounts of alcohol while experiencing withdrawal saw an improvement in symptoms. However, this method of relieving hangover symptoms was also shown to increase chances of developing alcohol dependency.
Why Is This Important?
Alcoholism is one of the most common addiction disorders, and improvements in alcoholism treatments have the potential to help thousands of people and even save millions of dollars currently spent on alcohol-related health care and court costs. The results of this study provide insight into a new approach to alcoholism treatment and clearer information on how alcohol impacts brain and nervous system functioning. Study lead Professor Lindy Holden-Dye sums up the study's impact in the following way: "Neuropeptides are also involved in chronic alcohol effects in humans and this is leading to new ideas for the treatment of alcoholism, but their precise role is unclear. Our study provides a very effective experimental system to tackle this problem."