Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Feb. 4th: The neurological processes of alcohol addiction

with Asma Asyyed, M.D.

Dr. Asyyed's research interest is in the neurological processes of alcohol addiction. While at UCSF she was involved in two research projects. The first project was to study the effects of ethanol on CRE-mediated gene transcription in mice, using biochemical, behavioral and neuroanatomical techniques (Asyyed et., 2006). The second research project was to study candidate genes that may have a link with alcoholism (ADORA1, MOR and PKIB genes), using molecular biology and biochemical techniques.

6 comments:

Alfia Wallace said...

Wow. Fascinating, controversial topic, lots of great questions and discussion. Dr. Asyyed said that there is a genetic predisposition which causes one to have more or less of some chemical (Does anyone remember what this was? It become acetate.). This chemical helps you break down alcohol. Those with more of it are more likely to become alcoholics - perhaps because they can drink more before becoming drunk and so become attenuated to it. It's all terribly complicated though, of course, and lots more research needs to be done to find out the exact process of addiction.

There was a lively debate over whether there is much personal choice involved in alcoholism. The speaker contended that, given exposure and opportunity (stress, peer pressure, etc.) one who becomes an alcoholic is just as guilty as one who becomes a diabetic. The addictive process for alcohol doesn't trigger for all people. They are looking for the genetic markers which make some people more susceptible to this mental illness.

Jessy said...

I never knew that alcohol was such a large problem amoung people. I knew that some people have problems with drinking, but I never knew that alcohol could directly lead to death (I know, I'm slow) I always thought it was alcohol that made you do stupid things resultin in death. Also, that a high percentage of kids start drinking in the 8th grade. I never even thought to get into the liquor cabnet. Never been something of interest to me yet obviously so many people think its cool. I also found it interesting that an alcoholic feels guilty and wants to stop, but can't. Overall, this was a very interesting seminar and I hope to go to another like it.

Irina said...

For the most part, I found the seminar very interesting. It did feel as though Dr. Asyyed had prepared the first half of her presentation specifically for teenagers. We heard the teenage drinking statistics in freshman health class. Once she got into the science of it, however, the presentation was very fascinating. I wish there had been more time for her explain her particular research. I tried asking during the presentation, and again afterwards, but because of time constraint, she could not fully explain what it is she does.

I found the information about the processes addiction very interesting. From the reason some become addicted more easily than others(the chemical Alfia mentioned... I can't remember what its called either) to how addiction actually works (alcohol mimics GABA, a relaxing enzyme(?) and uses its receptors, causing the body to stop production of GABA), that part of the lecture was great. I also enjoyed talking to Dr. Asyyed after her presentation worthwhile. She was a lot more open and explained her lecture more clearly.

Overall, it was a great lecture, and I will try to make time to go to future ones.

Kaushik said...

I thought this seminar was quite interesting. I knew alcohol led to severe mental and physical problems, but never knew it caused death. Also, the process of alcohol affecting your brain fascinated me. The fact that alcohol can kill you frightened. As Marin County being the #1 county in the United States for under-age alcohol drinking, I think all of us should be more cautious of what actions we take.

Raji said...

Wow, what a discussion...
I loved and at the same time did not love this seminar for a number of different reasons. I happen to find myself weirdly fascinated with social and psychological issues such as alcoholism... so this seminar was a real toy to chew on for me. However, I felt much of the information exposed in this seminar to spark a flame of *ahem* argument in my mind.

I'm not a professional, but I think that on a topic such as alcoholism, personal ethics are a valid source of opinion. I found myself disagreeing with a lot of the information that was presented. Now, I know you are going to say, "How can you disagree with facts?", but in all honesty -- I have to say that alcoholism is not as genetically determined as the speaker liked to think it was. Yes, there are certain biological factors that make a person more susceptible to being negatively affected by alcohol, but in no case can it "trigger" the actual issue of alcoholism.

My standpoint is that alcoholism is an addiction that is - give or take - 20% physical and 80% emotional.

Addictions ARE a physical issue, not doubt - just like cigarettes and hard drugs. An interesting thought to toy with is the one which questions this: When you are an alcoholic, is it your body which is addicted... of YOU that is addicted?

This question, just as many others, leads us into the ultimate debate over Who Am I, but let's not get too metaphysical about it...

Arthur said...

I went to a very interesting lecture today at noon by Dr. Deiter Meyerhoff, Professor of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at UCSF and here at the SFVAMC in the Center for Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases (CIND). The title of his presentation is “Neuroimaging and Cognition in Substance Use Disorders: Focus on Abstinence and Relapse Prediction". Dr. Deiter had performed MRI imaging on alcoholics 1 week, 1 month, and 8 months after begining abstinance from alcohol. He divided the groups into smokers and non-smokers. Patients that were non-smokers had reversal of many of the changes in their brain anatomy. Patients that were smokers had much less improvement if any at all. Patients that relapsed (kept drinking) had no improvements. He then looked at reward centers in the brain (amgydala, etc.) and patients who relapsed into drinking had much greater loss in the reward centers. It looked as if there were certainly anatomic differences in those who relapsed (went back to drinking) and those who did not. Whether these anatomic differencs were genetic or from prior alcohol related injury was unclear. It was very clear that alcoholism caused injury to the brain, smoking made the changes much, much worse. Stopping drinking reversed the changes somewhat if the patient also did not smoke. But smoking prevented the brain recovery. Genetics may have a significant effect on the brain reward centers which makes abstinance (from alcohol) more difficult.