A new study has identified three different types of drinkers based on their brain activity, and it could change how we think about alcohol addiction in the future.
The festive season is upon us.
It’s the season for strolling Christmas markets, mulled wine in hand, and for champagne toasts at awkward office Christmas parties. Even the humble hot chocolate gets a boozy makeover come this time of year. So, you could be forgiven for thinking that December is just one whole month of eating and drinking yourself silly. ‘Tis the season, as they say.
It’s also the time of year when our drinking habits become more overt (looking at you, office parties). Have you ever wondered why some people can knock back a couple of drinks without seeming to have any issues, while others can’t stop there? According to new research, it might be down to our brains.
By observing mice’s brains activity when exposed to alcohol, neuroscientists at Vanderbilt University and The Salk Institute were able to predict which of the mice would drink compulsively after identifying three distinct drinking personalities: light, heavy and compulsive bingers.
According to the study, a binge drinker is someone who continues to drink “despite it resulting in a negative outcome”. Researchers found that even when given the same access to alcohol, these traits still presented themselves, suggesting that there was something different going on in the “binge drinkers”.
Researchers discovered a specific circuit in the brain that either simulated or diminished “punishment signals” while drinking.
Fascinatingly, this brain activity showed before the change in drinking habits: those mice whose brains simulated punishment were less likely to develop compulsive behaviour later on. On the other hand, those with decreased punishment signals revealed binge drinking tendencies later on. From these findings, researchers were able to accurately predict the mice’s drinking habits from the very start.
Dr Cody Siciliano, study author and an assistant pharmacology professor, described the findings as “surprising”. “We were actually able to predict which subjects would become compulsive,” he said, “based on neural activity during the very first time they drank.”
The study notes that nearly a third of adults drink compulsively when presented with alcohol. However, researchers hope their findings could shed light on new ways to tackle alcohol addiction in the future.
If you think you or someone you know might be suffering from alcohol addiction, you can find support here.
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