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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Impulse Control In Alcoholics

A common thread that everyone with a history of addiction shares is having a lack of impulse control. For the average person, having a couple drinks and going to bed is no hassle at all. But for the alcoholic, having one drink begets another and they will typically not stop drinking until there is no more alcohol to be had. Simply put, there is no 'off switch' for people with alcohol use disorder.

While it is well understood that substance use disorder is a mental illness in the field of addiction medicine, a significant number of people still believe that addiction occurs in people who have a lack of willpower or a moral failing. It is a mindset that throws fuel on the fire that is the stigma of addiction. The reality of addiction is quite different than most people think, since addiction is a mental health disorder. Understanding the nature of substance use disorder begins and ends in the human brain.

In fact, when it comes to impulse control in alcoholics, new research suggests that it may be due to a lack of a certain enzyme in the brain, according to International Business Times. Years of research by the University of Linköping indicates that an enzyme known as PRDM2, or the lack thereof, could be responsible for diminished impulse control in alcoholics. The findings were published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

"PRDM2 controls the expression of several genes that are necessary for effective signaling between nerve cells," said lead author Markus Heilig. "When too little enzyme is produced, no effective signals are sent from the cells that are supposed to stop the impulse."

Down the road research on PRDM2 could lead to the development of drugs that could increase impulse control, potentially preventing relapse, the article reports. In the meantime, Heilig points out that addiction is a biological problem, one that should not carry stigma.

"We see how a single molecular manipulation gives rise to important characteristics of an addictive illness," adds Heilig. "Over the long term, we want to contribute to developing effective medicines, but over the short term the important thing, perhaps, is to do away with the stigmatization of alcoholism."

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