Clearer Connections Drawn Between Alcohol, Risk and Pleasure
> 4/30/2008 11:42:50 AM

Why do we like to drink, again? Is it the bubbly sense of pleasure that covers us after we've knocked a few back or the deceptive impressions of invulnerability that begin to build as the drinks pile up? Why does alcohol cause so many to, as they say, throw caution to the wind? And why do we continue to drink even as we watch the habit lead to unfortunate behaviors in ourselves and others? As often as we're lectured on the negative effects of alcohol, we've only just begun to fully understand its effect on our bodies and, most importantly, our ever-volatile brains. New research further clarifies that testy relationship.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques to scan and observe the active brains of a dozen subjects, researchers at the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism appeared to determine, once and for all, that risky decisions made while inebriated are not a sign of personal weakness or suggestibility but the result of a complex chemical reaction. The human brain responds to alcohol in predictable and nearly universal ways, one of which is an effective numbing of the amygdala, insula, and other neurological zones related to visual analysis, threat assessment and response mechanisms.

Subjects were healthy social drinkers who received either alcohol or placebo solution intravenously during 45-minute sessions on two different days. In order to normalize the results of their study, researchers alternated substances to ensure that each participant received both. While being dosed with these IV fluids, subjects were exposed to a series of facial photos bearing either fearful or neutral expressions during these periods. Participants (hopefully) realized that the frightened images did not represent any real threat and that they have simply been designed to elicit such a response. But even such mild stimuli prompt the same types of neurological activity that would arise in the face of true danger - unless the viewer happens to be under the influence. Subjects who received alcohol displayed no significant changes in their brain chemistry no matter which photos they saw.

Subjects also assessed their own levels of intoxication in order to help researchers determine how closely the amount of alcohol consumed relates to various subsequent symptoms. They found that, as expected, inhibition and fear responses decreased in inverse proportion to blood-alcohol content. The more one drinks, the less sensitive he or she is to potential threats. Drinking was also predictably seen to spawn hyper-activity in the reward system of the brain's dorsal striatum, a structure that houses a large share of the infamous neurotransmitter dopamine and its receptors and is most notably responsible for the activation and management of various pleasure mechanisms. Alcohol, it would seem, acts upon the mind in a manner similar to that of every other recreational drug.

These findings could potentially explain nearly every unfortunate alcohol-inspired behavior. A weakened threat response system undermines one's ability to recognize the dangers of driving after a twelve-pack, diving into the lake behind your friend's house in mid-winter or taunting the surly-looking fellow at the end of the bar. These findings hardly justify any of the horribly embarrassing things we do when we take to drink. But those who think they can resist the inanities of inebriation, even after drinking liberally, because of their remarkable capacity for self-control might want to think again. This drug does not discriminate. 


Or to put it more simply- when people drink they are not thinking straight. I address this subject as well in my April blog entry entitled "Finding Peace With Addiction." (For family and friends of addicted people)Thanks, blogmeister, for sharing this research with us.
Posted by: Lorelei 5/14/2008 8:09:58 AM

Woops. Here's my site in case you want to read the
Posted by: Lorelei 5/14/2008 9:17:04 AM

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