Scientists have identified a key mechanism involved in how alcohol affects the brain.
Researchers from Scripps Institute, California, say the discovery suggests a possible way of treating alcoholism.
Alcohol affects the chemical make-up in the brain - and this is what creates pleasurable feelings when you drink.
Writing in Science, the researchers say alcohol addition could be treated by blocking these pleasurable messages so people do not want to drink.
The researchers looked at the role of a chemical called CRF in the brain, which helps control the release of other “feel-good” chemicals.
It is found in many different parts of the brain, and is known to be involved in the way the brain in response to stress, anxiety and depression.
Researchers found CRF levels also increase - particularly in the amygdala, the so-called pleasure centre of the brain - when people move from ‘social drinking’ to alcohol dependence.
They say when nerve cells in the brain are exposed to alcohol, they release CRF, which then causes the release of the feel-good chemicals.
Other chemicals were then used to block the effects of CRF, so the other chemicals were not released.
The Scripps team scientists said the research suggested that this could provide a way of treating alcoholics who struggle to stop drinking.
But a spokesman for Alcohol Concern in the UK said treating the chemical effects of alcohol did not address the underlying issues of why people drank.
“Very often, people get addicted to alcohol as a mask for other problems. Treating the effects in the brain will not address those underlying issues.
“It may also not address other health effects, such as damage to the liver.”
Revision date: July 7, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.