A study investigating alcohol dependency and withdrawal symptoms has been conducted by neuroscientists from the University of Southampton. They have concluded, unsurprisingly, that drinking alcohol over a long period of time ‘profoundly affects the brain, which adapts to the intoxicant and causes withdrawal symptoms when consumption stops’.
The school of Biological Sciences used 1mm long C. elegans worms in their study, as they show similar alcohol-dependent behavious despite their evolutionary distance from humans.
The research shows how the ‘Hair of the Dog’ strategy, where further alcohol is consumed to prevent a hangover, is not entirely mythical. Withdrawal symptoms can be relieved by drinking small doses of alcohol, although this can increase alcohol dependency. Dependency manifests itself in anxiety and agitation, although seizures are also possible in rare cases.
The study highlighted how a particular class of brain-signalling molecule, the neuropeptide, is required for the chronic effect of alcohol on the worm’s nervous system. Professor Lindy Holden-Dye from the University determines that:
“Neuropeptides are also involved in chronic alcohol effects in humans and this is leading to new ideas for the treatment of alcoholism, but their precise role is unclear. Our study provides a very effective experimental system to tackle this problem.”