Alcoholism, what causes it and how it can be better treated is a subject that has long fascinated scientists. Now a group of scientists in the UK may have found the cause of alcoholism or at least the reason why some people tend to gravitate so strongly towards alcohol while others don’t.
The research which was conducted on mice showed that a mutated gene could be causing certain people to drink more than others.
According to researchers the gene that regulates alcohol consumption Gabrb1 can sometimes become damaged and this causes excessive drinking in mice and possibly in humans too.
The lead researcher on the project had this to say about the findings:
Professor Howard Thomas, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, said: “We know from previous human studies that the GABA system is involved in controlling alcohol intake. Our studies in mice show that a particular subunit of GABAA receptor has a significant effect and, most importantly, the existence of these mice has allowed our collaborative group to investigate the mechanism involved. This is important when we come to try to modify this process first in mice and then in man.”
The Gabrb1 gene, according to researchers changes alcohol preference so strongly that mice carrying either of two mutations in this gene preferred drinking a 10 per cent alcohol solution rather than water.
Another UK professor explained why the research and its findings are so significant to society and to the treatment of alcoholism:
Professor Hugh Perry, Chair of the MRC’s Neurosciences and Mental Health Board, said: “Alcohol addiction places a huge burden on the individual, their family and wider society. There’s still a great deal we don’t understand about how and why consumption progresses into addiction, but the results of this long-running project suggest that, in some individuals, there may be a genetic component. If further research confirms that a similar mechanism is present in humans, it could help us to identify those most at risk of developing an addiction and ensure they receive the most effective treatment.”
Basically the study found that normal mice generally will choose to drink little or no alcohol when given a choice between alcohol and water. But mice with a mutation in the Gabrb1 gene preferred drinking alcohol over water, choosing to drink 85 per cent of their daily fluid intake as alcohol and even were willing to work to obtain alcohol, for example pushing a lever to get to the alcohol. This behaviour sounds surprisingly similar to that of people with severe alcohol addictions.
According to one researcher involved in the study, Dr Quentin Anstee, Consultant Hepatologist at Newcastle University and joint lead author, it is quite amazing to consider that a small change in the code for just one gene can have such a profound effect on such complex behavioural patterns such as alcohol consumption.
The researchers explained that this study is valuable in that it provides somewhat of a guide to develop better treatments for alcoholism in the future.