Flipping the off-switch on the impulse to drink

By Karin Lillis • Published: November 8th, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Are you prone to pouring an evening cocktail or after-dinner glass of wine? There might be a switch to shut down that impulse, according to researchers from the University of Adelaide.

The scientists, studying mice, found a link between blocking a certain receptor in the brain and eliminating the impulse to drink — specifically after dark. Their results were published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.

The researchers tested the effects of the drug called plus-naltrexone (nal-trex-own) on an immune system receptor called TLR4. In mice, administering the medication blocked TLR4 and curbed the animals’ night-time craving for alcohol.

Specifically, the drug appears to act as a sort of off-switch to counteract signals in the brain’s “reward” center that are prompted by drug and alcohol use. Researchers said this center is affected by the body’s circadian rhythms and typically peaks in the early evening.

Experts advise that the key to preventing the harmful effects of alcohol abuse and overuse lies in moderation. Some research, for example, suggests that drinking moderate amounts of red wine can help prevent heart disease. Heavy and long-term drinking, however, can lead to obesity, heart disease, liver damage and certain kinds of cancer, according to the American Heart Association.

The University of Adelaide researchers said their study is part of an emerging field that examines how the brain’s immune system might affect the impulse to drink. Ultimately, they hope their research will lead to a better understanding of human alcohol consumption — and with that, treatments to help curb the urge to drink it.