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David Baxter

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Alcohol: The Chemistry Of The Dark Side
Shifts in brain chemicals explain causes of alcoholism, relapses

New studies of the effects of alcohol on brain chemistry help to explain why alcoholics experience long-lasting feelings of tension and distress. They also provide a key to why some drinkers develop alcoholism in the first place, and why they tend to relapse, even after protracted abstinence. The studies were described here today (note: this story is from 1999) at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

George F. Koob, Ph.D., a scientist at The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, said animal studies indicate that heavy drinking depletes the brain's supplies of dopamine, gamma aminobutyric acid, opioid peptides and serotonin systems--chemicals that are responsible for our feelings of pleasure and well-being. At the same time, it promotes the release of stress chemicals, such as corticotropin releasing factor (CRF), that create tension and depression. In combination, the depletion of pleasure chemicals and the stimulation of stress chemicals creates a persisting chemical imbalance that leaves the alcoholic vulnerable to relapse, he said.

Hoping to suppress the dark feelings aroused by CRF, alcoholics drink more-but the more they drink, the more CRF is produced. This cycle ultimately raises the "set point" for alcohol intake, or the amount it takes to make an alcoholic feel "normal," according to Koob. He says some data from animal studies suggest that CRF remains active as long as four weeks after someone stops drinking.

At present, family history is the only indicator of vulnerability to alcoholism. Among individuals who have an alcoholic parent, men have a five-to-one chance, and women a two- or three-to-one chance of developing the disease, said Koob. His study could point the way toward the identification of specific chemical markers-as an example, perhaps low levels of dopamine and high levels of CRF that could better warn of danger ahead.
 

just mary

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Interesting, especially the reference to the chances of a man or woman becoming an alcoholic if they have a parent who is an alcoholic (ie. men have a 5 to 1 chance, while women have a 2 or 3 to 1 chance). I was always under the impression that men had a higher probability of becoming alcoholics. But when I really think about it, it makes sense. A drunk woman is looked on a bit more unfavourably than a drunk man, which might cause a woman who likes to drink to keep her consumption private, which starts the lying and hiding a lot sooner. And in the end, this might just hurry up the process from normal, slightly neurotic girl into a fullfledged alcoholic woman. But I'm sure most of us know someone like this or might even be one themselves. So, if I don't drink for four weeks, I should be okay, in a brain chemistry sort of way?
 

David Baxter

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Remember that 4 week figure is from animal studies, not humans. Also, if you drink heavily over a prolonged period of time, some of the damage that occurs to areas of the brain (e.g., thalamus) and the liver may be irreversible.

It's a question of how much for how long...
 

just mary

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Hi.

Well, I'm drunk again and I did well for two whole days, nothing of an alcoholic nature. I was so looking forward to saying how proud I was, that I was taking control, that I'm a "valiant human being", I "really " try. What a f****ing joke. I am the "complete loser", in the clearest sense.

Mary
 

HA

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Hi Mary,

I had a childhood friend that died from Cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 40. I had not seen her for years then about 5 yrs before she died I had called another childhood friend and we went to visit her because we heard how diffiuclt of a time she was having with drinking. She actually left to go to the bar after just visiting for 1/2 hr. We really felt there was nothing we could do and it was too hard for us to witness this.

I think alcohol is one of the most destructive drugs when you include the emotional damage it does to families along with the physical of lives lost.

I'm not sure if you are saying that you have an alcohol addiction but if you do I hope you get some treatment and counselling for it.

Take care
 

just mary

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Hi,

I just wanted to apologize for my last message, completely inappropriate. I'm not addicted to alcohol, I abuse it. Thanks for responding HeartArt and I am getting help.
 

HA

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Hello Mary,

I'm so glad you are getting help. There are better ways than alcohol to deal with your life difficulties. I hope that you can find these soon.

Hugs
 

ThatLady

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It's good to know you're getting help, Mary. It's not an easy struggle, but it's a worthwhile one. Alcohol has no good to offer to anyone.
 

just mary

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Hello again,

I just finished reading a book called "Bulimia / Anorexia" by Marlene Boskind-White and William C. White. The first half of the book discusses something called "bulimarexia", I seem to recall hearing something about this a few years ago. Basically the authors describe a binge/purge type of behaviour with respect to food, different from anorexia and I wasn't sure how it differed from just plain bulimia. I just found it interesting that I treat alcohol in much the same way that many of the women in the case studies treated food, their symptoms (eg. eating in isolation - I always drink alone, eating a lot, to the point of painfulness - that's how I drink, I can go days but when I do drink, I binge, the guilt and shame associated with the behaviour - I know it's bad for me and I'm embarrassed). And before I could legally drink (I could count on one hand how many times I drank before the age of 18 and my parents were very strict) I did have odd habits with respect to food, i.e. binge eating and some laxative abuse. Could I have just traded one bad habit for another. At least with drinking you feel good for a few hours.

Thanks.
 

just mary

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Hi,

Just having a bad night. My husband, Ken, works night shifts and that's when I tend to drink. I just feel so alone. Ken can be pretty dependent on me and sometimes my only release is drinking.

Weird eh.
 

David Baxter

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I am now, Mary. It's 10.17 pm here (EDT) - just home from work about half an hour ago myself.

I can go days but when I do drink, I binge, the guilt and shame associated with the behaviour - I know it's bad for me and I'm embarrassed
What does "binge" mean for you? What is different about the days when you DO drink compared to the days when you DON'T drink? And what is the embarrassment about? Just the fact that you drank at all? or is it about what you do when you're drinking?
 

just mary

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thanks for replying.

"binge" generally menas 8 to 12 beers, I really like beer, and then I pass out.

I'm embarrased that I drink so much, I never leave the house, it's always by myself.
 

just mary

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I drink when I'm lonely, Ken doesn't like it when I go out, he's not mean or anything, he just doesn't seem to be comfortable when I go out with friends,
 

just mary

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sorry, I didn't finish that, whenever I go out or do something for fun, Ken always responds. "gee, I wish I had time for that". He's a nice, considerate person, he's just had a hard life.
 

David Baxter

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I can see why he might be envious that you can go out with friends while he has to work but why should you feel you need to stay home alone?

It seems to me you'd be a lot happier and a lot less likely to drink to excess if you could go out and do things with your friends... I don't see how the present situation helps you OR Ken, honestly.
 

just mary

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I've tried, but whenever I go out I always feel guilty, that if I really loved him I would be at home, doing things for him.
 

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