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A. Understanding the Brain's Response to Alcohol

Narrator: This is Science Today. For years, scientists have known that addictive substances like alcohol affect a part of the brain that controls the pleasure and reward centers. Now researchers led by Ivan Diamond, a professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, have identified a molecule that helps explain how alcohol affects the brain. Diamond says in the presence of alcohol, two chemical processes that normally work in opposite directions instead work in combination.

Diamond: And so we think that this "synergy" of an outside substance teaming up with an inside normal function is what accounts for hijacking the nerve cells so that they now develop a need to take more and more of the drug, or in this case, alcohol.

Narrator: When the researchers blocked the molecule that combined alcohol's effects to the existing brain processes, the brain's need for alcohol dropped considerably

Diamond: Now that's very encouraging because it suggests that by a pharmacalogic manipulation, or ultimately by a drug treatment, we might be able to change this need to continue drinking.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.