Alcohol Blunts Sense of Reward and Pleasure of the Brain

A new study reveals that a critical part of the reward system of the brain gets blunted in individuals that are alcohol-dependent. It further reveals that the same still holds true even for those that have decided to abstain from alcohol for a long period of time.

These recently-published findings demonstrate alcohols can affect the reward and happiness region of the brain. According to leading brain expert Baroness Susan Greenfield, it shows how there seem to be fewer opioids that are released in the brains of those individuals that are considered to be alcohol dependent. This is when the data is compared to what was recorded for individuals that are in a controlled group. Opioids are known as chemicals that are responsible for triggering reward and happiness in the brain. These results happen to follow the same pattern as a previous study that has been conducted on individuals that are addicted to gambling.

The opioid system in the brain plays a crucial role in man’s sense of pleasure, reward, and pain. There is also growing evidence that an imbalance could underpin dependence on alcohol. Sometimes, addiction is referred to as a state that is reward-deficit. This is where individuals are no longer able to derive any happiness from doing activities that are normally rewarding and hence, will try to recompense through substance abuse.

Because of this, numerous treatments have been developed over the years to target the reward system of the brain and regulate it too. However, these treatments have not always been very effective. Recent figures show that about three-quarters of people who are suffering from alcohol dependency are likely to relapse in just the first year of undergoing treatment.

Experts have stated the need to have a better understanding of whatever underlying changes the brain undergoes in association with dependence on alcohol. Only through this can, effective treatments will be developed in the process. This would also be a step in the right direction when it comes to understanding who are those individuals that are going to benefit from these particular treatments.

The study also recruited a group composed of individuals who are used to be alcohol dependent but are now abstaining. They underwent PET scans before and after receiving a dexamphetamine dose. This is supposed to stimulate a response in the opioid system of the brain. The same tests have been performed on a control group composed of 15 individuals.

What they have found out is that participants that were alcohol dependent released lesser endorphins and opioids when compared to those belonging in the control group. It was also discovered that this reduced release rate does not really change even despite the fact that the individual involved has abstained from any alcohol use for a long period of time.

Still, whilst this may be a significant step to understanding the brain function where alcohol and other addictive substances are concerned, it does not really show whether the deregulation experienced in the reward system of the brain is a direct result of such addiction. It also does not establish if it is something that has been present even before developing the addiction.

Learn more about the brain and how it works by reading about Baroness Susan Greenfield online.

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