Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Brains on Booze

You know what really surprised me about the trip to NYC?

Getting back - and not feeling depressed.

I was expecting to feel down because it was my first non-drinking day in almost a week and reality was beckoning. In all the ways reality has a tendency to do after a vacation. But as much as I know cleansing works, I was still surprised that I didn't feel blue or anxious that day. In fact, I was in a great mood - all day and night. Even without a drink.

I know people who've never dealt with a problem might think this is setting the bar a bit low. "Big deal, you're  not depressed when you're not drinking. Cry me a river." But it means a lot to me. Because sobriety used to equal depression. So I LOVE feeling good when I'm sober. I'm convinced that's what regular cleanses allow me to do.

By the way, there's more evidence to support the idea that problem drinkers are probably hardwired to be that way - at least according to the newest study out of McGill University.

Professor of Psychiatry, Dr. Marco Leyton, who led the study, discovered that certain people have a measurably greater dopamine response to alcohol than others - and this response could be one of the factors that contributes to addiction problems. (btw, dopamine - as we know - is central to our feelings of reward and well-being. It initially evolved to promote vital activities like the search for food and sex, but it's also become the center of much new addiction research. Including mine.)

To conduct the experiment, Dr. Leyton and his labbies studied a group of 26 individuals of varying risk for alcoholism (aged 18-30). They questioned the subjects about their drinking habits and conducted several specific personality tests. Then they gave each of the subjects either juice or alcohol. In the latter case, three drinks in 15 minutes. Whoa! I'm not even sure I could handle that. And I'm practically a professional.

Anyway, afterwards, all the subjects were given PET scans which measured dopamine response in their brains. Not surprisingly, individuals who were already considered high-risk drinkers had a greater dopamine response to alcohol than others. These individuals also indicated lower "intoxication markers" - meaning, they felt less drunk than their low-risk counterparts. So with both of these factors at play - a bigger buzz from drinking and the ability to drink more - naturally, these people could be more prone to developing a problem.

By contrast, some of the subjects who didn't have a significant dopamine response were actually more susceptible to the sedative effects of alcohol. So rather than feeling a rush of joy/bliss/euphoria ;) when they drank, they just started to feel (yawn) kinda sleepy.

I bet we all remember people like that, right? I do, anyway. Friends who just couldn't drink as much as I did or who got stupid drunk too fast or who were snoring by 11p. I thought they were just wusses - turns out they just had different brains. Hey! I didn't think they were wusses. Pussies, maybe, but ... I'M TOTALLY KIDDING!! But I definitely knew there were people out there who just didn't "get" alcohol the way I did. And science is beginning to explain why. Thanks, science!

Although the results are preliminary, Dr. Leyton thinks discovering this link between dopamine response and alcohol consumption could be a step toward identifying, preventing and treating addiction problems. He also thinks it could help the friends and families of alcoholics understand how they got that way. The results of the study will be published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research in January. For more info, here's the full article from Medical News Today.

Hmmmm ... I wonder if Dr. Leyton needs any more volunteers over there at McGill? I could definitely see myself partying in the name of science. Yeah, right. That's just what I need. Another reason to drink. Forget it! I'll stick to writing about it instead.