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Alcohol Consumption and Endorphins

New research proves a link between drinking alcohol and endorphins, chemicals in the brain that produce feelings of pleasure. Through observing brain scans, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) measured endorphin release in the brains of individuals consuming alcohol to find that these mood enhancers spike when someone is drinking.

Measuring Endorphins with Brain Scans

Researchers believed for around 30 years that alcohol consumption played a role in the release of endorphins in the brain, but they were never able to observe the effect in humans until 2011. At that time, a study conducted at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center (a UCSF affiliate) measured the effects of alcohol in 25 participants. The results were published in the January 11, 2012 issue of Science Translational Medicine. The research center specializes in the biological reasons behind alcohol and substance abuse.

Heavy Drinkers and Endorphins

During the study, researchers observed 13 heavy alcohol drinkers and 12 control subjects who were not heavy drinkers. All of the participants reported experiencing pleasure while drinking, and the researchers were able to pinpoint the exact area of the brain that released endorphins while drinking. All the participants showed activity in an area in the center of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal cortex. However, one difference for heavy drinkers was seen in the orbitofrontal cortex: the greater the activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, the greater the level of intoxication they experienced. Researchers believe this shows how the brains of heavy drinkers are altered and explains why they may drink too much.

Using Endorphin Research to Treat Alcohol Abuse

Researchers want to use the new data to develop better medications for treating alcoholism. One current medication, naltrexone, blocks several opioid receptors in the brain, and it may be blocking unnecessary endorphin release. Observations from the brain scans, taken from positron emission tomography, gives scientists an idea of the exact opioid receptors involved in endorphin release after alcohol consumption. Researchers want to find a drug that will target the new opioid receptor location, known as the Mu receptor, and block it. They hope that a drug which targets fewer opioid receptors will cut down on the unwelcome side effects that many people experience while taking naltrexone.

Help Finding Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Do not let alcohol addiction keep you from living a better life. If you or a loved one suffers from alcohol addiction, please call our toll-free helpline. We are here to help and offer advice on steps toward recovery. We are available 24 hours a day, so call us now for professional help.