Certain brain circuits are responsible in regulating alcohol intake, a new research has revealed.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill discovered brain regions and circuits that control an individual's attitude toward alcohol overindulgence.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism describes binge drinking as behavior that causes the blood alcohol concentration to reach 0.08 grams per deciliter (8 percent weight/volume) in just 2 hours. Similarly, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines binge drinking as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion on at least one day in the past 30 days.

Problems due to alcohol misuse cost the U.S. government as much as $249 billion in 2010 alone, with 77 percent of the costs, or $191 billion, attributed to binge drinking.

The World Health Organization (WHO) previously reported that in 2012, alcohol consumption accounted for 3.3 million deaths worldwide.

Past studies have shown that the ventral tegmental area and extended amygdala regulate binge drinking. But recent findings show that these areas possess functional circuits linked by neurons that yield a corticotropin releasing factor (CRF), which when inhibited confer protection from binge drinking.

The ventral tegmental area is responsible for reward regulation of natural reinforcers, which include food, and it also responds to the habit-forming properties of alcohol and other psychoactive substances. On the other hand, the extended amygdala serves as the center for anxiety and stress.

For their study, the team established that with the presence of a stressor, such as alcohol, CRF activation occurs in the extended amygdala that sends the information to the ventral tegmental area.

This means that when an individual consumes alcohol, activated CRF neurons in the extended amygdala also sends signals to the ventral tegmental area. When this happens, the signal is interpreted as a reward system that encourages the individual to continue drinking, which eventually leads to binging.

Todd Thiele from the UNC-Chapel Hill College of Arts and Sciences explained that the two brain regions known for stress and reward modulation are vital in the activation of CRF that, when altered, can cure binge drinking. Thiele hopes that their discovery would spawn more studies that would continue to identify other areas to explore so cure can be finally given to those who are prone to abuse alcohol.

"If you can stop somebody from binge drinking, you might prevent them from ultimately becoming alcoholics," said Thiele. "We know that people who binge drink, especially in their teenage years, are much more likely to become alcoholic-dependent later in life."

The study was published in Biological Psychiatry on April 26.

Photo: Dushan Hanuska | Flickr

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