How alcohol alters the brain and thus increases the risk of addiction - healing practice

Looking Inside the Drunk Brain Reveals Addiction Risk Factors

About 6.7 million people in Germany regularly drink alcohol to a degree that is harmful to their health. About 1.6 million people in Germany are considered alcohol dependent. A German research team has now investigated which molecular mechanisms in the brain lead to increased positive associations with alcohol.

In an ongoing study, researchers from the universities of Düsseldorf, Heidelberg, Mannheim and Cologne have analyzed the changes in the brain after a single dose of alcohol. The results, which were recently presented in the renowned specialist journal "PNAS", open up new insights into the development of alcohol dependence.

Memory and addiction memory go hand in hand

As the scientists involved report, it is already known that molecular and cellular mechanisms that are important for normal memory are also critically important for addiction memory.

Under certain circumstances, the brain more quickly forms positive associations with drugs and alcohol. A well-known factor is the age of the users. Normal memory performance is better in young people than in old people.

The earlier the contact, the higher the risk of addiction

According to the working group, the same mechanisms that lead to better memory are also responsible for stronger addictive memory. Those who have had extensive contact with alcohol from an early age are therefore also more likely to become dependent on alcohol in adulthood.

Alcohol causes changes in the brain

Thanks to high-resolution two-photon microscopy, these mechanisms have been observed for the first time in the brain of mice under the influence of alcohol. The research team around Dr. Sidney Cambridge, among other things, discovered that a single dose of alcohol can cause changes in the brain that last much longer than blood alcohol levels can be detected. .

Learned addictive behavior

Such persistent changes in synapses underlie memory and learning, the researchers conclude. It is therefore obvious that the changes discovered are also the basis of the memory of the addiction.

Alcohol-related changes in the mitochondria of nerve cells

In addition, the team was able to measure an increased mobility of mitochondria in nerve cells in the brains of mice under the influence of alcohol. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells. They provide the universal energy unit ATP (adenosine triphosphate). The increase in mitochondrial motility also persisted longer than alcohol was measurable in the blood.

In an additional fruit fly experiment, targeted blocking of this mitochondrial motility meant that the flies were unable to form positive associations with alcohol and lost interest. Normally, however, fruit flies get used to drinking alcohol very quickly.

A new approach to treating alcohol dependence

The researchers therefore suspect that alcohol-related brain changes also occur in humans and that these changes play an important role in the development of alcohol dependence.

According to the researchers, the results represent the basis for the development of drugs that could lead addicts to become disinterested in alcohol and possibly other drugs as well. However, further research is needed for this. (vb)

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This text corresponds to the requirements of the specialized medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been verified by health professionals.


Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


Heinrich Heine University of Düsseldorf: A look at the drunk brain - - new molecular and cellular mechanisms of addiction memory (published: 06/24/2022), idw-online.deJohannes Knabbe, Jil Protzmann, Niklas Schneider, et al. : Single-Dose Ethanol Poisoning Causes Acute and Long-Lasting Neuronal Changes in the Brain; in: PNAS (2022), pnas.orgFederal Ministry of Health: Alcohol Consumption in Germany (Accessed: June 24, 2022),

Important Note:
This article contains general advice only and should not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment. It cannot substitute a visit to the doctor.