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

"We're always looking for medications that can be used with the alcoholic to cut back on craving and dependency," noted Dr. Marc Galanter, director of the division of alcoholism and drug abuse in the department of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine in New York City. "That's why this whole neurotransmitter system is one area where we may find useful medications."

While medications that curb alcoholism by acting on brain chemicals are already prescribed today, Gianoulakis speculated that future research may lead to even more targeted therapies.

"Among the current treatments of alcoholism is administration of substances that block the activity of opioid peptides in a non-specific fashion [all opioid peptides in all brain regions]," she explained. "Our findings suggest that a more targeted approach may be developed by blocking the activity of beta-endorphin in the [brain's] ventral tegmental area."

But researchers say additional research is needed to better understand the relationship between alcohol and endorphins and to further develop treatments to treat the disease, beginning with studies involving human beings who actually consume alcohol.

"This is a laboratory study, so it's not easy to extrapolate from this study into specific effects on people in real-life situations," Galanter said. "But it does illustrate how that whole domain is important in research for alcoholism treatment."

Until definitive conclusions are drawn, addiction specialists and physicians continue to advocate that healthy adults consume alcohol in moderation.

"Consumption of high amounts of alcohol not only will fail to increase the release of endorphins and produce a feeling of well-being, but may stimulate other systems in the brain that may lead to the development of anxiety and depression," said Gianoulakis. "My advice to everyone is to drink less alcohol, because more is not necessarily better."

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