Study May Point To New Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

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A naturally-occurring stress hormone, corticotropin-releasing factor or CRF, appears to be a key player in the development and maintenance of alcohol dependence.

The Study

The location of the brain known as the amygdala plays a role in the anxiety, withdrawal, and excessive drinking that are part of alcohol dependence, and researchers have discovered that a naturally-occurring stress hormone affects neurons in the amygdala in a way similar to alcohol. In a series of animal studies, researchers found that chemically blocking the hormone (corticotropin-releasing factor or CRF) also blocks symptoms of alcohol addiction.

Study leader Marisa Roberto, associate professor at The Scripps Research Institute, notes, "Our study explored what we call in the field 'the dark side' of alcohol addiction. That's the compulsion to drink, not because it is pleasurable - which has been the focus of much previous research - but because it relieves the anxiety generated by abstinence and the stressful effects of withdrawal."

What Does This Mean?

This look at the brain chemistry behind alcohol addition could lead to a number of advances in the treatment of alcoholism. Drugs that block CRF may work to prevent the compulsion to drink excessive amount of alcohol, potentially providing a chemical treatment for alcoholism. In addition, establishing this link between alcohol dependence and a stress hormone may provide further insight into the relationship between alcohol dependence and emotional disorders like anxiety and depression.

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