Scientists say a cure for alcoholism could be on the horizon thanks to the remarkable discovery of neurons in the brain that play a role in whether one glass of wine turns into a bottle. Texas A&M researchers explain the part of your brain known as the dorsomedial striatum contains neurons with spiny protrusions, each with two types of dopamine receptors. One type, called D1, encourages action but is structurally altered when large amounts of alcohol are consumed. The alteration causes the neurons to activate with less stimulation and the result is a vicious circle: Drinking alcohol causes easier activation and activation tells your brain to keep drinking. "If these neurons are excited, you will want to drink alcohol," lead author Jun Wang explains in a release. "You'll have a craving."
The study in the Journal of Neuroscience explains mice brains exposed to booze had more mature protrusions in D1 neurons compared to brains that weren't exposed to the stuff. Mice with more mature protrusions—where long-term memories are stored—downed large amounts of alcohol when given the chance. However, when the mice were given a drug to block the D1 receptor, cravings diminished. "This is the major finding," says Wang. "D1 receptors are essential for alcohol consumption" and "if we suppress this activity, we're able to suppress alcohol consumption." Wang adds his "ultimate goal is to understand how the addicted brain works … and once we do, one day, we'll be able to suppress the craving for another round of drinks and ultimately, stop the cycle of alcoholism." (Get to know history's most high-functioning alcoholics.)