Alcoholism is a disease that is very complicated for a number of reasons. Most doctors and psychiatrists agree that alcoholism has its roots in both psychological and physiological causes. Each addict is different, and may suffer from the disease because of a number of unique factors. Though scientists have long known that alcoholism is related to neurological issues, there has been some debate around what indeed causes a person to become addicted to alcohol. Though factors like genetic predisposition have been shown to play a role in a person's tendency toward addiction, there are a number of other neurological factors that make a person more likely to suffer from alcoholism. Recently, researchers have conducted a compelling study that may in fact shed some light on what causes alcoholism and which areas of the brain may be responsible for a person's tendency to drink to excess.
Alcoholism and the Self Control Spot
The recent study was conducted at the University of Utah, and suggests that there is a link between a person's tendency to drink and the functionality of their "Self Control Spot," whose medical name is the lateral habenula. The lateral habenula is the part of the human brain that becomes active when a person undergoes a bad experience. This is the part of the brain that "teaches" one when an experience is unpleasant, by helping them associate certain activities and events with negative consequences. Scientists at the University of Utah have posited that individuals who struggle with alcoholism may not have a fully functioning lateral habenula.
Study on Mice Gives Some Insight Into the Physiology of Drinking
In order to gain some insight into the science behind addiction, researchers used a population of mice and monitored their behavior and brain activity. In the study, half of the rats used had their lateral habenulas deactivated. Both these animals and the test population were then given access to alcohol over the course of six weeks. Researchers observed that over the course of those six weeks, the rats who had inactive lateral habenulae drank more alcohol at a much more rapid pace than the rats in the control group.
Lateral Habenulae and Alcoholism
Researchers deduced from the behavior of rats that there may be a strong correlation between a malfunction lateral habenula and a tendency toward alcoholism. If a person does not correctly remember or process a negative experience with alcohol, they may be far more likely to repeat the behavior because of the fact that they do not have an accurate or vivid memory of alcohol's negative effects. This study is preliminary and may not be conclusive, but it certainly poses some interesting questions about what causes alcoholism and what leads a person to engage in addictive behavior. It is unclear at this point whether those with less active lateral habenulae may be more prone to alcoholism or whether excessive drinking may lead to damage in the area.
Understanding Addiction is the Only Way to Combat It
Studies like this one are of great importance to those in the fields of mental health and addiction treatment because of the fact that addiction is such a complex disease. There are a number of factors that may contribute to a person suffering from alcoholism. The more the mental and physical health fields understand addiction, the more effectively they may be able to treat the disease by way of therapy, in patient and out patient programs, and prescription drugs. As the medical field continues to learn more about the nature of addiction, many addicts may anticipate having more recovery tools available to them in treatment.