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Stress Hormone Could Be Key to Alcoholism

Blocking it may prevent excessive drinking, study suggests

THURSDAY, Jan. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers are linking a stress hormone to alcoholism in animals, and they report that blocking it could become a strategy to help stop the addiction in people.

The research "represents an important step in understanding how the brain changes when it moves from a normal to an alcohol-dependent state," lead researcher Marisa Roberto, an associate professor at the Scripps Research Institute, said in a Scripps news release.

"Our study explored what we call in the field 'the dark side' of alcohol addiction," Roberto said. "That's the compulsion to drink, not because it is pleasurable -- which has been the focus of much previous research -- but because it relieves the anxiety generated by abstinence and the stressful effects of withdrawal."

The hormone, known as corticotropin-releasing factor, plays a role in the body's response to stress and is found in the brain.

Romero said it's possible that blocking the hormone "may prevent excessive alcohol consumption under a variety of behavioral and physiological conditions."

The researchers also found that rats exposed to the hormone-suppressing chemical didn't become immune to the chemical's effects over time. That suggests that people might be able to take it repeatedly without facing a loss of effectiveness.

Still, rats aren't people, and it's possible that humans won't act the same way when exposed to the chemical.

The findings will appear in an upcoming print edition of the journal Biological Psychiatry.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on alcoholism.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: The Scripps Research Institute, press release, Jan. 25, 2010

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