The Addictions Coach: Is Enzyme to Blame for Alcoholism?
Enzyme malfunction may be why binge drinking can lead to alcoholism, study finds.
Stanford University Medical Center
A malfunctioning enzyme may be a reason that binge drinking increases the odds of alcoholism, according to a study by scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
The scientists identified a previously unsuspected job performed by the enzyme, ALDH1a1, in mice. The discovery could help guide the development of medications that extinguish the urge to consume alcohol, said Jun Ding, PhD, assistant professor of neurosurgery.
Ding is the senior author of the study, which will be published Oct. 2 in Science. The study’s lead author is postdoctoral scholar Jae-Ick Kim, PhD.
Alcoholism is an immense national and international health problem. More than 200 million people globally, including 18 million Americans, suffer from it. Binge drinking substantially increases the likelihood of developing alcoholism. As many as one in four American adults report having engaged in binge drinking in the past month.
Existing medications for treating alcoholism have had mixed results. Disulfiram (Antabuse) and similar substances, for example, work by inducing unpleasant side effects — including shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and throbbing headaches — if the person taking it consumes alcohol. “But these drugs don’t reduce the craving — you still feel a strong urge to drink,” Ding said.
In the new study, Ding and his associates showed that blocking ALDH1a1 activity caused mice’s consumption of and preference for alcohol to rise to levels equivalent to those observed in mice that had experienced several rounds of the equivalent of binge drinking. Restoring ALDH1a1 levels reversed this effect.
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