Is A Stress Hormone Key To Alcohol Dependence And Addiction?

Every day we read about the devastating consequences of alcoholism. In terms of numbers, about 30% of the 40,000 of reported deaths in the United States due to traffic-related causes involve drunk drivers. In addition to the heartbreak for the families involved, this causes a staggering amount of direct and indirect public health costs.

But not drunk drivers are alcoholics. Alcoholism is a chronic disease characterized by compulsive use of alcohol and loss of control over alcohol intake. It is devastating the individual, their families and to society at large. 

Nobody wants to be an alcoholic or intestinally cause a traffic accident bringing harm to themselves and others. The question has been how do people become so dependent on alcohol in the first place? The compulsion to drink is called the dark side of alcohol addiction.

It is known for a long time that people who are addicted to alcohol are not drinking because it is pleasurable but because they are trying to find relief from the stress and anxiety caused due to withdrawal. 

Research identified the actual biochemical factor that could be responsible for controlling the stress related brain reaction. 

Scientists led by Dr. Roberto at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California did experiments on animal models and found that a specific stress hormone called the corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) controls the alcohol dependence. 

This CRF is a natural substance originally found in the area of the brain known as the hypothalamus. It is involved in the body’s stress responses that are expressed in the increased anxiety, withdrawal, and excessive drinking associated with alcohol dependence.

Studies such as this are important because understanding how the brain changes when it moves from a normal to an alcohol-dependent state is the key to finding answers that could reverse the changes in the brain.

Taking it a step further, the study explored if the hormone can be blocked on a long-term basis to alleviate the symptoms of alcohol dependence. The answer is “yes!”

By blocking this hormone chemically also brought down the signs of addiction. These findings are promising because they are helping in the development of a solution to the huge problem of alcohol addiction in our society. 

Another interesting and encouraging aspect of these findings is the possible association of corticotropin-releasing factor with other disorders related to stress and emotions that cause mental health issues. 

This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Pearson Center for Alcoholism and Addiction Research, and the Scripps Research Institute.

For more information about the Corticotropin-Releasing Factor and its role in alcohol dependence, check out the article in the Biological Psychiatry 

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