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Addiction Study Might Lead To New Treatment Options

Got a craving for another beer or glass of wine? Your right ventral striatum may be in on your decision to have another.

A new study appears to show that both blood oxygen levels and dopamine activity are increased in response to the taste of an alcoholic drink. reports that Brandon G. Oberlin, Ph.D., assistant research professor of neurology at Indiana University and one of the authors of a new study on 28 men, identifies the right ventral striatum, a small structure deep in the brain near the basal ganglia. In the past few years it has become associated with risk vs. reward decision making, after a study on gambling addiction.

Using two different kinds of advanced brain imaging techniques (PET and fMRI), the researchers compared the results of giving beer drinkers a taste of their favorite beer versus a sports drink. After tasting the beer the participants reported increased desire to drink beer, whereas the sports drink did not provoke as much desire for beer. The brain scans also showed that the beer flavor induced more activity in both frontal lobes and in the right ventral striatum of the subjects’ brains than did the sports drink.

The ventral striatum is made up of the olfactory tubercle and the nucleus accumbens. As far as we know now, it’s main neurotransmitter is dopamine. It is likely involved in some mental illnesses, including depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Also, previous studies have implicated the ventral striatum in drug addiction, some emphasizing the “particular importance of the dopaminergic innervation of the olfactory tubercle component of the ventral striatum,”

What does this mean for those struggling with addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling or other substances or behaviors? If it leads to more research, possibly new treatments, including medications, designed to help manage cravings.

Anti-craving Medications: Where We Stand

Today, anti-craving medications are used more widely in addiction treatment programs.

For addiction to opiates such as heroin, there are a few choices. “Buprenorphine is a partial agonist and acts on the same receptors as morphine (a full agonist), but without producing the same level of dependence or withdrawal symptoms. Suboxone is a unique formulation of buprenorphine that contains naloxone, an opioid antagonist that limits diversion by causing severe withdrawal symptoms in addicted users who inject it to get “high.” It has no adverse effects when taken orally, as prescribed.

“An extended-release injectable formulation of naltrexone (Vivitrol) was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating opioid addiction. Vivitrol requires dosing every month rather than daily, which stands to improve treatment adherence.” (National Institute on Drug Abuse)

For alcohol, “Disulfiram (also known as Antabuse) is an aversion therapy that induces nausea if alcohol is consumed. [Unfortunately, the drug’s side effects, which are relatively common, make it a poor choice in many cases.] Acamprosate, a medication that helps reduce alcohol craving, works by restoring normal balance to the brain’s glutamate neurotransmitter system. Naltrexone (and now Vivitrol), which blocks some of alcohol’s pleasurable effects and alcohol craving, is also approved by the FDA for treatment of alcohol abuse.” (National Institute on Drug Abuse)

The relief of symptoms of withdrawal and cravings, helps keep the individual focused on recovery




Addiction Study Might Lead To New Treatment Options

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2016). Addiction Study Might Lead To New Treatment Options. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 Aug 2016
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