Roughly one in every thirteen Americans abuses alcohol, or has an alcohol addiction. That’s 25.16 million drunks in this country alone. Which, just to put that into scale, is equivalent to the entire population of Australia.
And, if that statistic isn’t disturbing enough on its own, here’s another: half of all the alcohol consumed in America is consumed by only 10 percent of American drinkers.
That’s unsettling. Alcoholism is a real problem in this country, affecting a lot of individuals directly, and by proxy affecting their family, their friends and coworkers. It’s a darkness that poisons relationships, ruins opportunities, drags people’s reputations into the mud and generates more regret than the City of Las Vegas. Too many wives, husbands, children and loved ones have had their hearts broken because of an alcoholic relationship, because of someone who has lost themselves inside a bottle.
Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could just shut that off? Imagine all the misery that might avoided if there was some way to defuse that dependency. Imagine how many lives would be changed for the better if alcoholism could just be “deactivated.”
Well, that may in fact be possible, according to new research published in Nature Communications. Using fiber-optic technology, scientists may actually be able to “turn off” the region of the brain associated with alcohol dependence, effectively solving alcoholism. Turning it off like a light switch.
How is that possible? One might wonder.
Well, the science is complicated. It has to do a lot with something called “the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis” and the “central nucleus of the amygdala.” Suffice-it-to-say: the scientists surgically implanted some fiber optic strands into the brains of rats, and used lasers to deactivate the part of the brain responsible for “withdrawal-induced escalation of alcohol consumption.”
What they observed was pretty profound: the rats, who had been forcibly addicted to alcohol, stopped drinking when this particular region of the brain was deactivated. Not only that, but their physical symptoms of withdrawal diminished significantly as well.
“The inhibition of CeA terminals in the BNST completely inhibited the withdrawal-induced escalation of alcohol consumption in dependent rats.” The study says. “The mechanism for this marked reduction of alcohol drinking might be related to a decrease in withdrawal symptoms that leads to less negative reinforcement that is associated with alcohol consumption.”
That was one explanation they came up with, for why this strange technique actually worked. But really, they have no idea. They floated a number of other possible explanations in their study, but concluded by saying, “Further studies are needed to discriminate between these different possibilities.”
As of now all they really know is that the procedure seems to have worked – whatever they did, it alleviated the need in these lab rats to keep drinking. It cured them of their alcoholism. And if they can translate those results to human beings, there may be an incredible new treatment for alcoholism, that would put conventional treatment options like Alcoholics Anonymous and even psychedelic shamanic treatments like Ibogaine, to shame.
It could represent a new era for addiction treatment in the US. An era where, doctors can simply turn off a person’s propensity to imbibe. No doubt, such an antidote would make this world a better place.
But, even if these results do translate from rats to human beings, the treatment wouldn’t likely be available in this country for decades. There’s still a long way to go before you’ll be able to ask the doc to kill your booze habit with a laser-beam. But perhaps in your lifetime this treatment will actually hit the public sphere, and alcoholism as a disease, might become a thing of the past.