Researchers Find Key Receptor that Influences Alcohol Abuse and Withdrawal

“Our focus in this study, like much of our lab’s research, was to examine the role of the brain’s stress system in compulsive alcohol drinking driven by the aversive aspects of alcohol withdrawal,” said Marisa Roberto, Ph.D., senior author of a new study and Scripps Research Associate Professor. “A major goal for this study,” added co-author Nicholas Gilpin, Ph.D., was to determine the neural circuitry that mediates the transition to alcohol dependence.” The researchers showed what role the receptor neuropeptide Y, located in the amygdala, the region of the brain responsible for retaining and processing emotions, plays in alcohol addiction.

“We’ve known for quite some time that neuropeptide Y is an endogenous [naturally occurring] anti-stress agent,” says Markus Heilig, clinical director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “We’ve also known that development of alcohol dependence gives rise to increased sensitivity to stress. This paper elegantly and logically brings these two lines of research together. It supports the idea that strengthening neuropeptide Y transmission in the amygdala would be an attractive treatment for alcoholism. The challenge remains to develop clinically useful medications based on this principle.”

The researchers examined the effects of neuropeptide Y on alcohol dependent and non-alcohol dependent rats. Those with dependency were permitted to access ethanol and water when they experienced withdrawal symptoms.”Normally, the transition to alcohol dependence is accompanied by gradually escalating levels of alcohol consumption during daily withdrawals,” Gilpin explained. “The aim of this protocol was to examine whether neuropeptide Y infusions during daily withdrawals would block this escalation of alcohol drinking.” The researchers discovered that the rats stopped or decreased their consumption of alcohol when they received infusions of neuropeptide Y, which successfully blocks the release of GABA transmission caused by ethanol intake. The researchers believe that the successful suppression of alcohol intake with neuropeptide Y could lead to intervention and treatment options in the clinical arena.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Naomi Parkes

    Naomi Parkes

    June 3rd, 2011 at 8:35 PM

    Is it just me or are they finding more and more of these quirks and segments of the human brain that previously went unmapped with every passing month?

    I think we will always understand and know less about the brain’s intricacies than we would like to believe. Still, that leaves open the door for exciting discoveries such as this.

  • MainBrain


    June 3rd, 2011 at 11:44 PM

    It all sounds good but would it also work for a non-addict? Like a person walks into a doc’s office and says-“I’ve lost my job,have plenty of personal problems and am scared I’ll get addicted to alcohol coz my intake is only increasing,please do something”?

  • Megan


    June 4th, 2011 at 4:26 AM

    While I think that it is great that scientists are currently researching new things about alcoholism and the reasons behind it in many people, I also think it would be valuable to study the social factors that influence alcoholsim and withdrawal too. There are so many reasons that may have nothing at all to do with internal science that could cause someone to either be an alcoholic or to have a completely different sort of reaction to drinking or even stopping drinking for that matter that should not be ignored.

  • tina spence

    tina spence

    June 4th, 2011 at 12:46 PM

    We’re finally getting down to the core of what makes humans tick, and with it, advancing in medical care for those who have drinking problems.

    That’s a wonderful thing for both them and their families! I’ll pray for the opening of minds and hearts to this work.

  • Jonah Kirby

    Jonah Kirby

    June 4th, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    Do you think it would ever be possible to alter alcohol in such a way that it has absolutely no risk of becoming addictive?

    It makes no sense that the body would become addicted to a poison that can kill you very easily in its pure form.

  • terry


    June 4th, 2011 at 11:53 PM

    ^^Megan:I agree with you. It’s not just the internal science that pushes a person towards alcoholism but many other factors play a role too.

    Let us assume alcohol is made illegal. What happens then? Yes, it will still be sold illegally butthe cost goes up and accessibility comes down, which will definitely bring down the number of addicts and also prevent prospective addicts! When it has been proved beyond doubt that alcohol is harmful then I don’t see the reason why it is not made illegal, especially if you consider the case of marijuana. Oh I see, it’s all about the money! People and their health don’t matter to the governments and their capitalist friends, only money does.

  • Jenny Ledd

    Jenny Ledd

    June 5th, 2011 at 1:31 AM

    Behavioral therapy can be a useful treatment tool in an array of mental illnesses and symptoms of mental illness that involve maladaptive behavior, such as sub-stance abuse, aggressive behavior, anger management, eating disorders, phobias, and anxiety disorders. It is also used to treat organic disorders such as incontinence and insomnia by changing the behaviors that might be contributing to these disorders.

  • Myra


    June 5th, 2011 at 3:45 AM

    Curiously enough scientists have known for some time that there are receptors in the brain that can cause people to process alcohol differently. But it is just now that thees issues are receiving the type of attention that they deserve. The hope that I have now is that this information will lead to even more beneficial developments in thsi field and that more help will be on the way soon.

  • Doris Frank

    Doris Frank

    June 5th, 2011 at 3:18 PM

    I agree it makes no sense. However any change in its makeup, any additive for example that could do the trick and make it non-addictive, could cause problems of its own. Just for argument’s sake, you may not be addicted to the alcohol any longer but form an addiction to the additive.

    Also, if overindulgence in alcohol comes with no consequences apart from getting you drunk, we’d soon forget about responsible drinking.

  • Eleanor


    June 6th, 2011 at 4:30 AM

    So just how feasible is it going to be to get this type of treatment to the masses? I mean personally this sounds like something that could take place in some big huge study lab and not your run of the mill hospital or addiction center.

  • leroy


    June 6th, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    quick identification of people at risk can actually go a long way in reducing people addicted to drinking and this surely is a commendable thing because alcohol addiction has become a major problem everywhere.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on