The brain has increasingly been a point of interest for researchers when it comes to studying addiction. In the last several years it has been discovered that areas of the brain responsible for self-control and rewards are most affected by addiction. Scientists have also found evidence of the long-lasting effects of drugs and alcohol on the biology of the brain. And now, a team of researchers from multiple universities and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) have released information about a potential cause for alcoholism.
One of the major functions of the brain is to release and regulate hormones. Hormones are an essential component of life, dictating to the body when it is time to grow, eat, sleep, and even think. One major hormone is called aldosterone. Aldosterone is an essential hormone because it regulates kidney function and ensures that the body maintains a water and salt balance. There are two parts to a hormone pathway, the hormone itself and the receptor it binds to.
The researchers of this study found that there could be a link between the aldosterone receptors and alcohol use after it was observed that the receptors for the hormone are located on areas of the brain traditionally linked to alcohol use disorders. The amygdala and the prefrontal cortex are areas of the brain that have proven to be associated to alcohol use disorder and therefore the researchers are indicating that aldosterone and its receptors could be beneficial for future medicinal trials to prevent or treat alcoholism. The findings can be seen in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
“We believe that this target might be particularly promising for those individuals who drink excessive amounts of alcohol to cut their stress and anxiety – this is technically what we refer to as the ‘withdrawal/negative affect state,’ [and] it is a domain for which we do not have approved targeted medications,” commented Lorenzo Leggio, MD, PhD and one of the authors of the study.
Other research indicates that increased drinking produces a higher level of aldosterone levels in the body. Upon closer examination, patients with higher aldosterone levels and history of alcoholism report stronger cravings, according to the study.
The research has not yet produced any new medication geared to aldosterone receptors as a way of handling alcoholism, but scientists are hopeful that this next step will be taken soon.