Drinking alcohol leads to the release of endorphins in areas of the brain that produce feelings of pleasure and reward, dicovered researchers around Jennifer Mitchell and Howard L. Fields, Ernest Gallo Clinic and University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), USA.
The finding marks the first time that endorphin release in the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal cortex in response to alcohol consumption has been directly observed in humans. The discovery of the precise locations in the brain where endorphins are released provides a possible target for the development of more effective drugs for the treatment of alcohol abuse.
Positron emission tomography (PET imaging) was used to observe the immediate effects of alcohol in the brains of 13 heavy drinkers and 12 matched “control” subjects who were not heavy drinkers. Alcohol intake led to a release of endorphins in all of the subjects. The more endorphins released in the nucleus accumbens, the greater the feelings of pleasure reported by each test person. The more endorphins released in the orbitofrontal cortex, the greater the feelings of intoxication in the heavy drinkers, but not in the control subjects. This indicates that the brains of heavy or problem drinkers are changed in a way that makes them more likely to find alcohol pleasant. This may be a clue to how problem drinking develops in the first place.
- Alcohol Consumption Induces Endogenous Opioid Release in the Human Orbitofrontal Cortex and Nucleus Accumbens,
Jennifer M. Mitchell, James P. O’Neil, Mustafa Janabi, Shawn M. Marks, William J. Jagust, Howard L. Fields,
Sci. Transl. Med. 2012, 4, 116ra6.
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