A specific circuit in the brain may be able to be targeted to treat compulsive drinking habits, according to research. The journal of Biological Psychiatry reported that there might be dysfunction in a certain pathway within the brain that normally keeps drinking habits in line. This important discovery can impact the millions of adult’s battling alcohol use disorder (AUD), or alcoholism, which is characterized by an inability to stop drinking even when it is negatively affecting their health, relationships, work, and school. There is a clear difficulty for these individuals in saying no to alcohol use.

The Brain and Alcohol: What the Study Found

The cerebral cortex is the external layer of the brain which regulates many behaviors including motivation, reward, emotion, and anxiety. It is also the main component of decision-making. Unfortunately, since alcohol has extensive effects on the brain, this creates issues when trying to narrow down a target for treatments involving the brain. 

To find how the brain regulates drinking, the researchers used trained mice to press a lever to receive a reward, which was alcohol. Afterward, the trained lab mice dealt with a difficult situation in which they pressed the same lever to obtain alcohol but they received an electrical shock on their feet. If they resisted the alcohol, they would not receive an electric shock. Most of the mice quickly realized that the shock occurred due to the alcohol and gave up trying to get it. Since the researchers used surgically-implanted electrodes to measure the mice’s brain activity in various regions of the cortex, they were able to locate a group of neurons that became active when the mice approached the lever but aborted getting the alcohol. These neurons only responded when the mice decided not to press the lever but did not respond when the mice chose the alcohol despite the risk of shock. Therefore, the neurons identified could be responsible for stopping drinking when it may lead to risks or dangers.

Struggling with An Alcohol or Drug Use Disorder?

Studies continue to take us deeper into understanding the underlying reasons for compulsive behaviors and substance use disorders to drugs and alcohol. Understanding compulsive drinking in some people depends upon identifying the brain’s neural pathways responsible for regulating these behaviors. Currently, relapse is a common part of the recovery process for substance use disorders. However, science may help develop more effective treatments based on research like this focusing on how brain wiring is different for individuals with substance use disorders to drugs or alcohol that could potentially alleviate the risks for relapse.


At Alta Loma Transformational Living, you will meet knowledgeable, compassionate professionals that understand addiction in all its forms.  Alta Loma uses an integrative and holistic approach to treat addiction and mental health issues. No treatment is one-size-fits-all, where you will have a team of experts prepared to create your customized treatment plan.  We offer care for your mind, body, and spirit, so that you can heal from the inside out and look forward to a lifetime of sobriety and wellness. If you are ready to take the first step in your recovery, please call us at 866-457-3843.