Have you ever had the kind of morning that made you wish you could have flipped a switch on your drinking the night before? Don't feel bad — we've all been there. But here's something to tell yourself next time you're nursing one helluva hangover: Scientists may have found a proverbial off-button in the brain when it comes to drinking alcohol. In a study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, researchers out of Texas A&M University suggest that by activating certain neutrons in the brain, we could curb the impulse to have "just one more" drink.
It all started with a prior study done by the group at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, during which they discovered alcohol consumption actually alters the physical structure and function of neurons. The activation of one type of these neurons, dubbed D1, apparently informs our decision to indulge in another (and another and another) alcoholic beverage. From there, the researchers set out to determine the opposite end of the spectrum: which neurons would tell that tiny beer-swigging voice in our brain to stop. And, well, they did. In doing so, they may have found a future solution for helping binge-drinkers and, more pointedly, alcoholics control their drinking habits.
Here's the deal. The researchers describe neurons as sort of like a tree, with many branches and offshoots. These branches include one of two types of dopamine receptors: D1, which the Texas A&M researchers found encouraged excessive drinking, and D2. While D1 neurons signal the brain to "go," D2 neurons do the opposite — they're part of your brain's "no-go" pathway. Heretofore, say the researchers, activating these D2 neurons could be the key to maintaining a responsible level of alcohol consumption. "At least from the addiction point of view, D2 neurons are good," explained Jun Wang, MD, Ph.D., the author of the study. "When they are activated, they inhibit drinking behavior, and therefore activating them is important for preventing problem drinking behavior."
Of course, as with everything it seems, there is a caveat. Cautions Wang, it'll still be quite some time before this theory can be tested on humans via drugs or even electrical stimulation. Still, the implications here are significant if and when a method of activating these D2 "no-go" neurons is achieved. "That's the ultimate goal. I hope these findings will eventually be able to be used for treatment for alcohol addiction," said Wang.
But until the day when science figures out a feasible way to activate the brain's off-button for drinking, here are a few tips if you're looking to curb your alcohol consumption:
1. Keep A Diary Of Your Drinking
Recent studies have shown that writing down what food you eat in a food journal can double the amount of weight lost, so clearly tracking what you put into your body is an effective way of curbing undesirable behavior. It's hard to argue with your nightly number ("I only had a few!") once you put it on paper.
2. Eat Up!
For starters, drinking on an empty stomach is a fast track to tummy trouble. It's just not a good idea. Aside from some indigestion, though, food also slows down the rate your body absorbs alcohol.
3. Designate Alcohol-Free Days
Health professionals at Harvard Medical School recommend abstaining from alcohol entirely a few days each week — or even longer — to give your body a break from drinking's effects. It might diminish your desire to drink at all.