Binge drinking, loosely defined as several drinks in a short period of time, is one of the most dangerous ways to consume alcohol. People who binge drink are more likely to suffer from alcohol poisoning, put themselves in situations that are dangerous and engage in risky behavior. In an effort to further understand binge drinking and the potential causes of it, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA), commissioned a study to investigate potential sources for the need to binge drink.
Researchers found evidence that indicated when a person feels stress their brain reacts in a certain way that may encourage binge drinking. Once this was discovered, researchers looked to see what could be done to minimize binge drinking.
Earlier studies found that the brain gives off a certain protein called corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) that increases levels of anxiety in a person. When someone is under extreme anxiety, binge drinking is often the solution to handle these types of feelings. However, in addition to producing the anxiety-inducing protein, the brain also produces a protein that has been found to lessen anxiety and binge drinking called neuropeptide Y (NPY). Scientists are hoping that with the discovery of this protein that they can create antidotes to binge drinking tendencies.
The new research, which was led by Thomas L. Kash, Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina’s Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, Chapel Hill, used new approaches to study the effect of NPY to control binge drinking.
“This study is an important contribution to our knowledge of the neurobiology of alcohol use disorders and could open new avenues for medication development,” explained George F. Koob, director of the NIAA.
It was determined that the part of the brain potentially controlling the binge drinking compulsion rested in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). Researchers hope that by mimicking the NPY effect on the BNST, they can create pharmaceutical interventions that would inhibit binge drinking behavior.