The Bottom of the Bottle is Never Dry

November 30, 2017

The stereotypical college experience: hazy, alcohol-filled nights of loose inhibitions and fuzzy memories. But for teenage binge drinkers, these destructive tendencies seem to perpetuate into their adult lives. Studies from the University of Adelaide expose a connection between excessive alcohol consumption during adolescence and alcoholism in adulthood. Additionally, their research reveals the critical role of our brain’s immune system in controlling one’s inclination towards the bottle.

Our brains are not fully developed until we are twenty-six. Not sixteen, or eighteen, or even twenty-one…But twenty-six. And unbeknownst to most teenagers today, alcohol intake can hinder the brain’s normal growth. Jon Jacobsen, a PhD student in the University of Adelaide's Discipline of Pharmacology, states that “when an adolescent who has been binge drinking becomes an adult, they're often left with an immature brain, which assists in the development of alcohol dependence.” Experiments on mice revealed that subjects exposed to extreme alcohol levels in adolescence showcased binge drinking behaviors as adults. More astonishingly, even minimal alcohol consumption during the mice’s teenage years increased their alcoholic impulses in adulthood.

The University of Adelaide, where the study took place (University of Adelaide)

However, when given (+)-Naltrexone, a drug that blocks a neural immune receptor known as Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), the adult mice’s alcoholic addictions significantly subsided. These results exhibit the importance of the brain’s immune system in the progression of one’s alcoholic dependence. Professor Mark Hutchinson, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics at the University of Adelaide, states, “We're excited by the finding that we can potentially block binge drinking in an adult after they have experienced such behavior during adolescence, by stopping the activation of the brain's immune system. It's the first time this has been shown, and gives us hope that our work has implications for the eventual treatment of alcohol addiction in adult.”

The medical applications of (+)-Naltrexone are astronomical as it will aid the millions of people suffering from alcohol addiction today. However, its distribution also triggers some ethical concerns. Will the accessibility of this drug and its ability to moderate addiction encourage teenagers to binge-drink? Will this “Get Out of Jail Free Card” cause adolescents to be blind to the consequences of alcohol consumption on the developing mind? Only time will answer these questions.

Camille Leoni

Camille Leoni is a staff writer for the Colonial Scope.

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