Science is constantly evolving and shedding light on previous misconceptions or questions. And in the case of alcohol, a new study has shown how men and women react differently to the substance, specifically in their brains. After conducting a small group study on men and women who fit the criteria for heavy drinkers, but not alcohol abuse, the researchers were able to note a major difference between the two sexes in the type of receptors that were influenced when alcohol was consumed.
GABA receptors are responsible for shutting off brain activity, they are integral in preventing anxiety and problems with these receptors often lead to depression. There are two specific GABA receptors, GABA-A and GABA-B. GABA-A is thought to have more of a connection to drinking patterns, while GABA-B has been found to be responsible for the desire for alcohol.
“Generally, our work showed that alcohol causes more pronounced changes in both electrical and chemical neurotransmission in men than women. There are two types of GABA receptors, A and B. Long-term alcohol use affects neurotransmission through both types in males, but only one type, GABA-A, is affected in females,” explained Outi Kaarre, lead author of the study.
The findings were presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology conference earlier this month in France.
So, if men who are considered to be heavy drinkers show more activity in both A and B GABA receptors, while women who are drinkers only show activity in GABA-A receptors, what does this mean for alcohol medications and theories of addiction?
First of all, there are certain medications that have been designed to help alcoholics curb their cravings, but these medications have not reliably worked on women. This may be because the medications are geared to the GABA-B receptors, which do not appear to be a problem in female heavy drinkers. Secondly, this new information may shed more light on why women become heavy drinkers, and why men are more prone to becoming heavy drinkers, and the reasons may not be the same for both sexes.
Understanding this difference could change the approach to alcoholism treatment and medications, especially as science continues to advance in the understanding of the intricacies of our bodies and minds.
If you have a loved one struggling with alcohol abuse or alcoholism, contact Desert Cove today to find out more about our treatment program and how we can help.