The first drink a person takes helps the brain memorize the initial euphoria and imprints it on the brain for the future according to a University of California study released Feb. 22 in JNeurosci, the Journal of Neuroscience. It's a startling conclusion when the median age of first use in the U.S. is 12 – the sixth grade – when the brain barely knows algebra, let alone understands the health consequences of the carcinogen alcohol.
The UC researchers show that one single dose of alcohol can induce neurological changes. The team of scientists studied how the brains of mice changed after alcohol exposure. Like other drugs that lead to addiction, such as amphetamines and cocaine, the drug alcohol affects the part of the brain responsible for reward and motivation. Alcohol increases the levels of dopamine released by the brain. This neurotransmitter is associated with the feeling of euphoria often experienced by drinkers.
In other words, the alcohol experience, through the brain's point of view, goes through initial euphoria and excitement before the sedative effects of the drug kick in. That's what is imprinted on the brain. As the brain remembers drinking as something pleasant, it can lead to further alcohol use, potentially the disease of alcoholism.
In more technical terms the UC Scientists discovered that dopamine receptors D1 and D2 play a crucial role in alcohol learning. They help the brain memorize the perceived beneficial effects of alcohol. Scientists saw neurological differences, not simply behavioral ones, between the mice. According to their findings drinking modifies the D1 receptors. "Consuming alcohol for the first time is a learning event that drives further drinking. Here, we identified a mechanism that may underlie the reinforcing learning associated with the initial alcohol experience,” concludes lead researcher Dr. Dorit Ron.
The first time you consume alcohol, you don't just experience something, your brain learns it through changes at the cellular level. The public health and public safety risks of underage drinking are enormous, and this study underscores the need to identify alcohol education and prevention in earlier grades, similar to the way anti-smoking campaigns begin at younger ages, as noted in the alcoholism book,Adding Fire to the Fuel. Visit alcohologist.com for a replay of CBS Sports' Power Up Your Health featuring Scott Stevens. Host Ed Forteau led a discussion on risky myths of about "healthy" drinking.Lucy Pireel's "All That's Written" included a feature on Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud called "When alcohol doesn't work for you anymore." Details on the third literary award for Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud and the first for Adding Fire to the Fuel also can be found on www.alcohologist.com. Download the FREE Alcohology app in the Google PlayStore today. Stevens also is the public relations officer with AddictedMinds.com