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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Stress and Heavy Drinking

At the end of a stressful day, many adults will imbibe to blow off some steam. It is a practice that millions of Americans engage in every day. Did you ever wonder why people turn to alcohol to cope with stress? Sure alcohol may cause euphoria which does in fact take your mind off of your problems, but there is more at play than meets the eye. There are other mechanisms operating that explain why people who are stressed tend to drink more, a coping mechanism that can be both habit forming and harmful to one's health.

Research has shown that stress weakens the alcohol-induced dopamine response in rats, ScienceDaily reports. Researchers at the department of Neuroscience in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania observed that rodents exposed to stress voluntarily drank more alcohol compared to controls. The research team, led by John Dani, PhD, believe that the findings could lead to a better understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and more effective treatments.

Stress alters neural circuitry, “addictive drugs use those mechanisms and trick our brains to keep us coming back for more," said Dani. When the rodents exposed to stress were given a chemical called CLP290, it corrected the stress-altered circuitry, it stopped stress from causing increased drinking behavior.

People with PTSD are far more likely to use drugs and alcohol, than those who are not afflicted. The symptoms of the disorder can be severe, and mind altering substances can mitigate such symptoms for a time. However, in the long run, one needs more and more of a drug or drink to cope, both leading to addiction and worsened PTSD symptoms. Blocking the effect that stress has on the circuitry of the brain's reward system, could have a huge impact.

"This line of research has implications for people with PTSD who have an increased risk for over-use of alcohol and drugs," Dani said.

The research was published in Neuron.

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