Where Does Alcohol Addiction Occur In The Brain?

Most people enjoy an occasional glass of alcohol now and then, and they find joy in a drink and are able to stop themselves while it is still enjoyable. But for some individuals, drinking is a compulsive behavior that they find impossible to prevent, even when they already know the consequence it can bring. 

Their behavior is often described in terms of addiction. 

“Why do they carry on with no regard for the consequences?”

“Why don’t you stop now?”

“Alcohol addiction is a choice you make. Choose sobriety instead!”

Scientists disagree. Alcohol addiction is not a choice. Alcohol addiction is a behavioral pattern that is anchored in the brain. Indeed, researchers in Sweden, at Linköping University, identified a specific region of the brain and molecular disorder that could be responsible for addictive behaviors.

Here is what it means to individuals struggling with alcohol addiction. 

The GAT-3 gene in the brain

Researchers in Sweden theorized that when the GAT-3 gene was present in smaller quantities in the brain, there was room for alcohol addiction to develop. The theory was tested on human brain samples from individuals who had suffered from alcohol addiction. It revealed a decrease in GAT-3 levels in the brain’s emotional center, the amygdala.

It’s an important discovery as many assumed that addictive behaviors are related to the brain’s reward center, connected to pleasurable responses to food, gambling, or sex, for example. In reality, the reward center recognizes pleasure from alcohol for everyone. Yet, it appears that dysfunction in the emotional center, the amygdala, is at the core the addictive behavior. The altered activity in the amygdala is strongly associated with addiction and the negative emotions it creates.

What does it mean for alcohol addiction treatment?

First of all, it is important to mention that not everyone who suffers from alcohol addiction has an altered amygdala function. Indeed, at Impact Outpatient Program, we have experience dealing with trauma-related addictions, which use alcohol to numb the emotional response instead of a symptom of distorted brain activity.  

Yet, in the event where the amygdala function is connected to the addiction, our counselors can help provide multiple pathways to recovery by combining medication-assisted therapy with other addiction-management methods. 

Can you rewire your brain for addiction recovery?

You can help your brain build new patterns and responses to provide healthy alternatives. Our counselors often make cognitive behavioral therapy part of our intensive outpatient program. CBT can help create new thought patterns and perceptions, which can put you back in control of your actions.

We also accompany our patients through different levels of recovery, with a less intensive outpatient program depending on their situations and even telehealth support if they can’t attend in-person appointments. CBT can be utilized along with other methodologies to create new behavioral responses. 
Do you want to find out more about alcohol addiction recovery? Do not hesitate to get in touch with our team and fill out the admission form to find out if we’re a match for you. At the Impact Outpatient Program, we appreciate that alcohol addiction is not a choice. Yet, recovery is your choice, and when you make it, we stand by your side all the way to success.

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