Can't find something? Search Here.

A Connection Between Cravings for Food and Cravings for Alcohol

Posted in Addiction News

Cravings can be powerful, and may stand in the way for many who are struggling to overcome addiction to alcohol. Patients may finish treatment for alcohol dependence, only to find themselves unable to resist the cravings for alcohol, which may result in a relapse. Many who enter substance abuse treatment programs relapse several times, caught in a cycle of relapse and recovery.

There has been extensive research done on the brain’s response to alcohol, in hopes of creating opportunities to develop medications that might block or substantially reduce the cravings that addictions can introduce. However, recently a study by researchers at The Scripps Research Institute discovered a connection between a protein responsible for monitoring our desire to eat, and brain cells that are central to the development of alcoholism.

The discovery could provide new prospects for the development of medication to treat alcohol addiction, as well as other addiction. The study’s findings appear in a recent issue of Neuropsychopharmacology.

The study’s focus is on the potential use of the peptide called ghrelin, which has been proven to help stimulate eating. Team leader and Associate Professor Marisa Roberto was knighted by the Italian Republic for her dedication to the alcoholism field. She explains that the study is the first to examine the effects of the peptide ghrelin on neurons located in the amygdala.

Roberto also says that the study builds on previous research showing that peptide systems that control food consumption are also centrally important to heavy drinking.

Identifying a pharmacological treatment option could result in a significant public health impact. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 79,000 deaths each year are traced to alcohol use, and costs of alcohol abuse are approximately $224 billion in healthcare and other related costs.

The research is based on the belief that the amygdale is central in the transition from enjoying alcohol to the need to consume alcohol to relieve negative feelings. This is a key transition in the development of alcohol addiction.

Maureen Cruz, first author for this study was a former research associate in Roberto’s laboratory, is currently an associate for Booz Allen Hamilton in Rockville, MD. She explains that because the amygdala is so critical for alcohol dependence, the researchers wanted to test the effects of ghrelin on the region of the brain.??The researchers found that the introduction of ghrelin on the amygdala did create situations in which particular neuron receptors were blocked, providing an opportunity for manipulating how the amygdala was affected by alcohol.

However, the researchers caution that while drugs have been previously shown to be effective at treating alcohol-related symptoms, they often work for only a small subset of patients.