Ethanol is like a rat!

Responsible for more than 40,000 deaths a year, alcohol continues to wreak havoc. If it is at the origin of a real habituation, its effect at the cerebral level remained mysterious. At a time when the government is fighting against overcrowded business meals, scientists are revealing today how our brain can cultivate this bad habit.

Synapse in normal operation

In the United States, alcohol is directly responsible for 23,000 deaths (cancer, alcohol-dependent cirrhosis). If one third of fatal traffic accidents are added, 10 to 20% of accidents at work, brawls, crime, offenses all related to the consumption of alcoholic beverages, we reach more than 45 000 deaths per year. But how do some people switch from occasional to problematic use? What are the reasons for addiction?

On the path of dependency

Drink a little, it's nice ... not for the brain!

Should we raise the elbow to win a contract?

Indeed, habituation takes place at two levels

The cerebral structures are no longer able to control the decision-making process, the free will of the individual is reached. Areas such as the pre-frontal cortex and the hippocampus are mainly affected. These brain areas are related to memory and higher mental functions. But the precise mechanisms and consequences of alcohol on the brain were unknown until now.

Scientists from the University of North Carolina have just updated the brain's functioning of alcohol. To assist them in their research, they subjected rats to ethanol-rich diets and observed the effects.

Results: Ethanol inhibits NMDA (N-methyl-D-Aspartic acid) receptors. A key piece of nerve impulse transmission in the brain.

"NMDA receptors activate the brain regions that control our behaviors, and alcohol prevents this activation," says Dr. Hélène Ollat, attached to the neurology department of the Lariboisière hospital and director of the Association for Neuro-Psycho-Pharmacology. These are involved in the memorization process.

They are indeed activated by glutamate, a central nervous system excitatory neurotransmitter in humans.

Synapses are the areas of information exchange between these neurons. At this level, information is exchanged in the form of chemical messages. Chemicals called neurotransmitters (in this case glutamate) are secreted and bind to specific receptors, NMDAs. It is at this level of information exchange that alcohol influences.

1: Nervous Influx 2: Neurotransmitter (glutamate) 3: Specific NMDA receptor 4: Glutamate reuptake system

Alcohol dependence is the result of a slow adaptation of normal brain mechanisms to a new situation. Neural networks reorganize. They "learn" to function differently.

Why in this case do not give glutamate to carry out a "rebalancing"? "If you release too much, there is a risk of toxicity that can cause stroke, for example," says Hélène Ollat.

If this study does not present new therapeutic perspectives, it helps to better understand the mechanisms of alcohol on the brain and supports the proponents of the recognition of alcoholism as a mental illness.
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The latest communication campaign of the National Institute of Prevention and Education for Health (INPES) on the dangers of alcohol emphasizes long-term harm. Main target of this awareness-raising operation: the regular consumer, whose habits do not necessarily lead to drunkenness. The slogan of this vast communication campaign is straightforward: "Alcohol, no need to be drunk to die". This operation has recently been enriched by a component concerning regular consumption in the workplace. Thus the IPSOS / Health Insurance / INPES study on the theme "Alcohol and business meals" reveals that during such lunches

Moreover, alcohol is responsible for 10 to 20% of accidents at work. Conscious of these risks, more and more companies are fighting against this dangerous legitimization of alcohol in the workplace. No need to accumulate glasses to shine in business!

* Alcoholism clinical and experimental research, 2001, 25 November 2001 (11): 1662-1672

National Association for the Prevention of Alcoholism

On the one hand, there is a behavioral dependence. By habit, alcohol is intimately linked to the atmosphere of celebration; On the other hand, there is a phenomenon of habituation with activation of the process of reward. People drink for pleasure but the effects fade, it is necessary to increase the doses.

74% of people use alcohol 35% see their consumption increased or provoked 21% consume alcohol while they do not usually use 14% consume more alcohol than in breakfasts Colleagues.