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'Good Feelings' From Alcohol Only Come With Fewer Drinks
Date:3/19/2009

Rat study suggests pleasurable endorphin release ends as drinking gets heavier

THURSDAY, March 19 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that when it comes to getting pleasure from alcohol, less may be more.

Experiments in rats suggest that a low or moderate amount of drinking releases "feel-good" brain chemicals called beta-endorphins, but this activity tapers off with heavier drinking.

"Drinking the low amounts of alcohol is associated with mild euphoria, decreased anxiety and a general feeling of well-being, while drinking high amounts of alcohol is associated with sedative, hypnotic effects and often with increased anxiety," said study author Christina Gianoulakis, a professor of psychiatry and physiology at McGill University and Douglas Mental Health University Institute, in Montreal.

The bottom line: "If after consumption of about two drinks of alcohol an individual does not experience the pleasant effects of alcohol, he or she should stop drinking," Gianoulakis said.

In the study, researchers injected male laboratory rats with saline or alcohol and tracked levels of opioid brain chemicals such as endorphins, enkephalins and dynorphins.

Rodents given low to moderate levels of alcohol showed increased levels of beta-endorphins, which produce a feeling of well-being in humans, while those given higher levels of alcohol did not. The same doses did not alter levels of the other the two other opioids, enkephalins and dynorphins.

Higher doses of alcohol failed to trigger the same release of beta-endorphins, the team found.

The study results were published online March 19 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and will be available in the journal's June print issue.

Besides helping to explain the "buzz" that comes with light, social drinking, the research may have implications for the treatment of alcoholism, experts said.


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