How much pain would YOU tolerate for booze? Heavy drinkers will put up with uncomfortable electric shocks to get their alcohol fix, study finds
- Men who consume over 20 drinks a week will put up with the discomfort
- Alcohol activates areas of their brains associated with compulsive behaviours
- There are an estimated 595,100 dependent drinkers in England
- Alcohol use disorder affects approximately 16 million people in the US
- Excessive alcohol is associated with liver disease, brain damage and cancers
Heavy drinkers are willing to tolerate painful electric shocks in return for alcohol, new research suggests.
Those suffering from alcohol use disorder, defined as men who drink more than 20 boozy beverages a week and women over 10, put up with the discomfort if it resulted in them being given a drink of their choice, a US study found.
Researchers believe this may explain why heavy drinkers risk legal punishment, such as when driving under the influence, if it means they get their alcohol fix.
The prospect of alcohol also activates areas of the brain associated with compulsive behaviours in heavy drinkers, the research adds.
There are an estimated 595,100 dependent drinkers in England, of whom only around 108,600 are being treated. Alcohol use disorder affects approximately 16 million people in the US.
Excessive alcohol intake is associated with conditions such as liver disease, brain damage, and cancer of the mouth, throat and breast.
Heavy drinkers are willing to tolerate painful electric shocks in return for alcohol (stock)
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IS ALCOHOL OR CANNABIS WORSE FOR THE BRAIN?
Alcohol damages the brain more than cannabis, research suggested in February 2017.
Unlike booze, marijuana does not affect the size or integrity of white or grey matter in the brain, even after years of exposure, a study found.
Grey matter enables the brain to function, while white controls communication between nerve clusters.
Study author Professor Kent Hutchison, from the University of Colorado Boulder, said: ‘While marijuana may also have some negative consequences, it definitely is nowhere near the negative consequences of alcohol.’
The scientists add, however, research into cannabis’ mental effects are still very limited.
Lead author Rachel Thayer said: ‘Particularly with marijuana use, there is still so much that we don’t know about how it impacts the brain.’
In the US, 44 percent of those aged 12 or over have used cannabis at some point in their lives.
Although their findings appear positive, the researchers also add there is a long way to go before cannabis will likely be broadly legalised.
Many are still concerned as to how the class-C drug affects people of different ages, manages pain and causes addiction.
How the research was carried out
The researchers, from the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, analysed 19 heavy drinkers who were not seeking treatment for alcohol use disorder.
The drinkers’ brain functions were assessed via MRI scans both before and after being offered booze.
The participants could have up to four alcoholic drinks of their choice in exchange for an electric shock to their wrists.
The participants self selected the shock intensity at a level that was ‘painful and comfortable, but not extremely painful’.
The experiment was repeated in 23 light drinkers; defined as less than 15 alcoholic beverages a week in men and under 10 in women.
Light drinkers will not tolerate pain for booze
Results suggest light drinkers are significantly less likely to tolerate pain in exchange for booze.
The researchers believe their findings demonstrate heavy drinkers take risks if it means they get their alcohol fix.
They add this is seen in real life when such drinkers risk legal punishment, for instance while driving under the influence.
The findings were published in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.
Heavy drinking leads to heart attacks by causing toxic iron to build up
This comes after research released earlier this month suggested heavy drinking leads to deadly heart attacks by causing toxic iron to build up in the body.
Women from regions where alcohol consumption is high have greater iron levels in their bodies and are more likely to die from heart conditions, a study by Anglia Ruskin University found.
Excessive iron levels may cause ‘internal stress’ that results in plaque building up in the arteries.
Alcohol may also suppress the hormone that prevents iron from accumulating.
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