Could a Specific Brain Protein be the Cure for Alcoholism?

Could a Specific Brain Protein be the Cure for Alcoholism?


Science Daily says that “A protein in the brain that binds to alcohol could be the key to curing alcoholism, reports UH College of Pharmacy medicinal chemist, Joydip Das.”

The way in which this works is that when the alcohol binds to this specific protein, tolerance is created. The theory is that if they can manipulate this protein in some way, potentially through a new medication, then they could change the way in which this binding occurs and thus prevent tolerance from being created.

The idea is that if a person does not develop a higher tolerance for alcohol then they would not be as likely to become addicted to it.

Would this really be the case though? If we look at some of the long term alcoholics who have been abusing alcohol for decades, some of them actually experience reverse tolerance, in which it takes less and less alcohol for them to become intoxicated. There are some alcoholics who can drink a single beer and black out completely from just that one drink because their tolerance has reversed so much.

The point of this reverse tolerance example is that many alcoholics are not just drinking to fulfill a physical dependency on alcohol, but they are drinking for mental and emotional reasons as well. They are drinking to escape from their life situation, and to escape from the person that they have become. They drink to escape self loathing in many cases.

So in cases like this–where an alcoholic is not just physically dependent on alcohol but is also addicted to self medicating and the “escape aspect” of addiction–would this brain protein approach even be useful? I’m not so sure at this point.

The physical dependency is definitely a problem when it comes to serious alcoholism, but we have to remember what is really driving the addiction here. An alcoholic is really a drug addict who has chosen alcohol as their drug of choice. They are then self medicating with alcohol on a regular basis in order to medicate their emotions and escape from reality. I don’t know if we can cure that just by changing the way in which the body metabolizes a substance.

As a subjective example, I know that at one point I was struggling with my own alcoholism and I knew that I had a serious problem. Alcohol was killing me and it was creating unwanted consequences in my life, and I reached a point in which I wanted to do something about it.

I was too scared to go to AA or to seek help in treatment (just yet), but I was willing to experiment on my own and attempt to beat alcoholism myself.

So I made an effort to work what is commonly referred to as “the marijuana maintenance program.” I stopped drinking alcohol and I focused on just smoking marijuana every day as my method of self medicating and escape.

It is worth pointing out that when I had been actively drinking alcohol in the past I had also been using marijuana right along with it. So when I quit drinking it still felt like I was quitting something, not just switching drugs. I was already using marijuana every day and I just dropped the booze, but continued to smoke. As such, I knew that I might have to smoke a bit more frequently and possibly greater quantities in order to get the desired effect.

This turned out to be the case. At first, using the marijuana maintenance program worked okay for me. I was doing fine, smoking every day, and feeling decent. No major problems or issues.

But eventually, because I was not doing anything else to try to improve myself or my life–because I was not seeking new solutions other than to get high–I eventually hit a major snag in my life. I started getting emotionally overwhelmed for no specific reason, and the marijuana was not helping me. It seemed like I could not smoke enough in order to properly self medicate. My emotions were running all over me and I could not stop them, and I could not seem to medicate them away any more.

If you get high on marijuana every moment of every day, eventually it is not “special” any more. Eventually, your brain learns how to adapt to the high a bit, and your emotions can break through much easier. In other words, if you never get high on marijuana then it works really well in a pinch to medicate your emotional state. However, if you get high every day, then your emotions can shine through the fog quite easily.

I was getting high every day because I was not drinking and therefore my tolerance was “cheating me” out of the ability to have an emotional escape. I knew that if I just drank a bit of booze then all my emotional problems would melt away. So I “relapsed” at this point and went back to drinking. My experiment had failed because I could not figure out how to self medicate using only marijuana; it simply wasn’t enough for me.

I give this example because it helps to illustrate the point that it is not necessarily what substance we abused, how much we took, or which drugs we were on–it is about how those substances made us feel and how we had to medicate with something in order to escape.

The solution in recovery is to seek solutions for our life. If you get clean and sober then you have to face reality, you have to face your emotions, and suddenly you can no longer turn to an instant escape in the form of substance abuse. What are you going to do in order to cope and deal with life? The answer is that you need to seek new solutions, you must take advice, work a program, learn new strategies for dealing with stress. This is the only way that you are truly going to be able to overcome addiction in the long run–learning how to live an effective, peaceful, and happy life without resorting to substances.

The mind of an alcoholic is always going to seek out the shortcut or the easy fix. So we want to find a quick and painless solution that will just magically make our alcoholism go away. But the truth is that if we want real recovery then we are going to have to work for it.

Start this process by surrendering to the fact that alcohol is not going to bring you happiness any more, and realize that you need to move on. Ask for help and go to treatment. Inpatient treatment is the best path for starting out on a new journey in life.

I’m not sure if they can cure alcoholism with just science, technology, or medicine. The mind of an alcoholic is always seeking out something to medicate with, even if it is not substances. The shift into recovery is when we agree to ignore that tendency and instead focus on living new solutions. It is this shift in thinking that truly leads us to recovery, to living a better life, to finding new solutions.