Addiction Policy Forum Blog

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Punishment, the brain, and compulsive drinking

By Mark Gold, MD on January 28, 2020

Experts, analysts, and officials sometimes find certain mysteries of alcohol use disorder (AUD) frustrating. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we could find a single, or even primary, cause of the condition? Or if we could know with certainty which interventions would work best for patients and under which conditions? We know that the share of all individuals who have used alcohol heavily is relatively high, but a much smaller share of that population develops AUD. Heavy drinking and binge drinking on their own, while still risky, are not the only problem. In a study published in Science, researchers took up this question: what leads only some individuals who drink heavily to drink compulsively? They tracked neuron activity in mice to gauge how experiences of punishment in the brain might affect compulsive drinking patterns.

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