Scientists Flick Switch, Boozy Rats Stop Drinking

Study suggests alcoholism can be conquered in the brain
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 8, 2016 10:02 AM CDT
Scientists Flick Switch, Boozy Rats Stop Drinking
No more Everclear for you.   (Pixabay)

Rats can hit the bottle too hard, just like humans—and a new study suggests the rodents' alcohol dependence may be reversible, Live Science reports. "We can completely reverse alcohol dependence by targeting a network of neurons," says lead scientist Olivier George in a statement on the study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience. The research built upon previous studies indicating a specific set of brain cells in the amygdala become activated when a person drinks to excess. For the study, scientists at the Scripps Research Institute deactivated those brain cells—and the rats ceased their heavy drinking for the entire length of the study, about two weeks. They also suffered only minimal withdrawal symptoms.

"We've never seen an effect that strong," George says. "It's like [the rats] forgot they were dependent." Just to make sure, the researchers ran the experiment several times, each time with the same results. An interesting side note: When the neurons were shut off in rats who were considered binge-drinkers but not fully addicted, the effect lasted just a day, "as if the brain’s path from alcohol to reward was not established yet." More studies will need to be carried out to see how this finding translates to human alcohol dependency. (This may have come just in time, because we're drinking ourselves to death.)

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