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Alcoholism and the Compulsivity Circuit

Have you ever wondered why someone would do something even though it hurts them? As an outsider, people often find themselves wondering this about addicts. A new study takes a look at the fact that heavy drinkers will still try to acquire alcohol despite the known threat of a negative consequence more so than light alcohol drinkers. The study also found that this behavior is associated with unique brain activity in those heavy drinkers.

Heavy drinking is a very common addiction and you will often notice that heavy drinkers might have previously been arrested on alcohol-related charges, lost a job for alcohol-related reasons, or even had a failed relationship due to alcohol. However, despite several negative consequences they might have experienced, they continue to choose alcohol.

The results of this study provide evidence that a “compulsivity circuit” might drive the alcohol-seeking behavior seen in heavy drinkers that is seemingly resistant to negative consequences. This also reveals potential targets for treatments that focus on reducing compulsive alcohol use, specifically in heavy drinkers.

“This study is important because it is the first study to investigate compulsive alcohol seeking in a heavy drinking population,” said Dr. Grodin, adding that previous studies have used animal models to try to understand this behavior.

Through the use of brain imaging, conducted during the task researchers found that heavy drinkers showed more brain activity in regions that were associated with decision-making under conflict. They also noticed increased activity in the habit and reward area of the brain. Furthermore, the imaging revealed that the connections between two brain regions that were stronger in people who also demonstrated stronger compulsivity.

“This study highlights the complex rewiring that takes place in the heavy drinkers brain. Circuitry associated with conflict, risk and aversion become associated with those that process rewarding experiences, and this is associated with increased risky choice behavior when alcohol is a possible reward,” said Cameron Carter, MD, Editor of Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.

Addiction takes a toll on your brain. Over time, it begins to actually make changes in your brain and these changes can be hard to reverse. The continued reward of alcohol teaches your brain to want it, therefore making you crave it. This is what plays into the development and continuation of addiction.

Don’t wait until you’ve had a problem, reach out for help from the beginning of even being worried you might have a problem. We can help you.

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