Drunk Rats Help with Binge Drinking

When was the last time you saw a drunk rat?

Seriously.  Scientists are studying them to see if they can identify what in the brain makes them become alcoholics, well, compulsive drinkers.

A research team has "identified circuitry in the brain that drives compulsive drinking in rats, and likely plays a similar role in humans," according to newswise.com.

The scientists found neural pathways that run between the part of the brain associated with critical thinking and risk assessment, and another part that is "a critical area for reward and motivation," the article states. Medications do exist to target these areas of the brain, but this new discovery could possibly provide "an accelerated track to new treatments for compulsive drinking."

But don't think the rats had a wild party.  They were regularly given a liquid that was 20% alcohol.  But they also drank both unmixed alcohol "and alcohol mixed with extremely bitter quinine," newswise.com quotes senior investigator F. Woodward Hopf, PhD, an assistant adjunct professor of neurology at UCSF.

Before you get all worked up with jealousy, think of it as a vodka tonic without the sugar.  That's how Hopf describes it.

The point was that, while the rats liked the alcohol, they didn't like the quinine, so drinking it gave them pleasure, but then, if not pain, at least an unpleasurable feeling.  Humans can relate.  Drinking gives us a nice buzz, then a headache and queasy stomach in the morning.

But when the rats were given a substance called by the researchers "a brain exciter" that works as a blocker, the compulsive drinking stopped.

Hopf and his team hope to translate this into meds for compulsive drinkers who are human.  He feels it's very important, he said at newswise.com. "The negative consequences are profound: people continue to drink despite the potential loss of jobs, marriages, freedom, even their lives.”


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