The end of binge-drinking? Mice given brain injections of synthetic chemical and access to alcohol drink less, study finds
- Researchers found synthetic NBQX limits binge drinking behaviour in mice
- The chemical can inhibit the part of the brain associated with addiction
- NHS defines binge drinking as consuming more than eight units for men
Scientists hope binge drinking will become a problem of the past after discovering a chemical that may stop the brain from craving more booze.
The synthetic compound NBQX is thought to inhibit receptors when injected into a section of the brain that causes addictive behaviour.
Experts at Purdue University in Indiana studied its effects in mice who were offered alcohol and sweetened water over a week.
The mice were given free access to a drink containing 20 per cent alcohol — the same strength as Port — for seven days.
They found that mice given of NBQX showed less ‘binge-like’ drinking behaviour up to the highest dose given out.
The NHS defines binge drinking as consuming more than eight units for men in a single session, around two-and-a-half pints of beer. It is six units for women — the equivalent of two large glasses of wine.
Around 15 per cent of Brits binge drink once a week, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) data.
Alcohol misuse is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15 to 49-year-olds in the UK.
Scientists hope binge drinking will become a problem of the past after discovering a chemical that may stop the brain from craving more booze. Graph shows: The amount of alcohol consumed by male (white bars) and female (black bars) mice after being given different quantities of the drug
The NHS defines binge drinking as consuming more than eight units for men in a single session, around two-and-a-half pints of beer. It is six units for women — the equivalent of two large glasses of wine
What is NBQX and how does it effect the brain?
NBQX is a type of salt that binds to a particular receptor in the brain associated with addictive behaviours.
The drug can be ingested after being mixed with water.
It blocks the AMPA receptor in the brain’s dorsolateral striatal (DLS) — the part of the brain where habits, compulsions and addictions are formed.
The drug, which is not currently used in any medications, has been shown to protect the brain and prevent seizures.
Researchers found the drug prevents ‘binge-like’ alcohol drinking in mice when given at increased amounts, up to 1.5 micrograms per side.
Experts said the findings could offer hope of a new way of treating binge-drinking in humans in the future.
Dr Tony Rao, an expert on alcohol misuse and visiting clinical fellow at King’s College London, told MailOnline: ‘Although the benefits of this drug in humans are still to be shown, it has a novel mode of action at brain receptors usually associated with alcohol withdrawal.
‘The increasing role of these receptors in addiction means that this drug may hold promise for the future treatment of alcohol addiction in humans.’
The study, published in Behavioural Brain Research, and the chemical has not been tested on humans.
Initially, the study gave mice access to alcohol via a drinking tube for two hours a day for a week.
They monitored the mice’s drinking levels over the week to get a baseline of their alcohol consumption.
On day seven, they injected some of the mice with the drug in the dorsolateral striatal (DLS) — the part of the brain where habits, compulsions and addictions are formed.
Researchers then repeated the experiment to see how the drug affected their behaviour.
They found that mice given moderate doses (0.15 or 0.5 micrograms) of the drug had lower levels of binge drinking that those given no drug or a higher dose (1.5 micrograms).
The effect was largely the same in male and female mice, the research led by psychologist Dr Stephen Boehm said.
Writing in the study, the researchers said: ‘These data suggest that AMPA receptors in the DLS play a role in the modulation of binge-like alcohol drinking.
‘These findings further validate the importance of the DLS for alcohol related behaviors and alcohol use disorder.
‘We found that intra-DLS NBQX reduced binge-like alcohol drinking.’
But they said the only statistically significant difference in alcohol consumption was found between mice not given the drug at all and mice given the most effective dose (0.5 micrograms).
Mice are able to get intoxicated in the same way as humans, although studies show not all of them drink to excess in the same way if left to their own devices.
DO YOU DRINK TOO MUCH ALCOHOL? THE 10 QUESTIONS THAT REVEAL YOUR RISK
One screening tool used widely by medical professionals is the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Tests). Developed in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, the 10-question test is considered to be the gold standard in helping to determine if someone has alcohol abuse problems.
The test has been reproduced here with permission from the WHO.
To complete it, answer each question and note down the corresponding score.
0-7: You are within the sensible drinking range and have a low risk of alcohol-related problems.
Over 8: Indicate harmful or hazardous drinking.
8-15: Medium level of risk. Drinking at your current level puts you at risk of developing problems with your health and life in general, such as work and relationships. Consider cutting down (see below for tips).
16-19: Higher risk of complications from alcohol. Cutting back on your own may be difficult at this level, as you may be dependent, so you may need professional help from your GP and/or a counsellor.
20 and over: Possible dependence. Your drinking is already causing you problems, and you could very well be dependent. You should definitely consider stopping gradually or at least reduce your drinking. You should seek professional help to ascertain the level of your dependence and the safest way to withdraw from alcohol.
Severe dependence may need medically assisted withdrawal, or detox, in a hospital or a specialist clinic. This is due to the likelihood of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the first 48 hours needing specialist treatment.