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Scientists Now Know Why Your Brain Makes You Binge Drink

Photo via Flickr user mimi anderson

That slow, gradual climb from a few sips of beer to full-on Jäger-binge is familiar to many. And the eventual loss of agency that comes along with it can lead to some pretty reckless behaviour.

Alcohol-related healthcare costs US taxpayers a staggering $223.5 billion every year, $170 billion of which is linked directly to binge drinking, defined by the CDC as consuming four or more drinks in two hours.


READ MORE: A Night of Binge-Drinking Messes with Your Health for a Whole Week

Needless to say, the pervasiveness of hardcore drinking in America is a source of concern for public health researchers who have been trying to shed light on the mechanism through which a mild-mannered individual can morph into a hot mess in mere hours.

But science may soon be coming to the rescue for the legions of partiers incapable of saying "No" to that last drink. In a new study, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill claim to have identified the neural circuit that controls binge drinking, and it could have consequences far beyond the lab.

It turns out that the amygdala and the ventral tegmental area, the same parts of the brain which regulate anxiety and reward, respectively, become intimately connected when one is in the throes of a drinking binge. By focusing on the circuit of neurons that connects these two parts of the brain, the UNC-Chapel Hill team suggested that shutting it down could actually "protect against binge alcohol drinking."

READ MORE: Your Adolescent Binge-Drinking Has Ruined Your Brain Forever

The study, which was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (that's right, there is a governmental institute dedicated solely to curbing America's drunken stupidity), used mice as subjects, but it could have very real implications for human party animals. Practically speaking, the UNC-Chapel Hill team argued that their results could provide a novel method of targeting and controlling the complex behaviour which culminates in a binge.

"It's very important that we continue to try to identify alternative targets for treating alcohol use disorders," study author Todd Thiele said in a press release. "If you can stop somebody from binge drinking, you might prevent them from ultimately becoming alcoholics. We know that people who binge drink, especially in their teenage years, are much more likely to become alcoholic-dependent later in life."

So next time you're drinking hard, try to remember to pour one out for the homies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Or, you can just pour one out to avoid your amygdala and ventral tegmental area from getting the best of you.