Behavioral sensitization: A new perspective on alcoholism

ts of alcohol. In other words, MK-801 may lend itself to treatment possibilities by helping make alcohol less appealing to someone who has lost control of their drinking.

"All basic, biomedical research that addresses drug abuse," said Clyde W. Hodge, assistant professor of neurology at the University of California San Francisco, "whether that abuse is about alcohol, cocaine, or any drug, is directed toward understanding the neurobiological mechanisms that lead to addiction. Once we understand the neurobiology, hopefully we can design medications to alter some aspect of addiction.

"This study provides evidence," he continued, "that MK-801 blocks one of the addictive properties of alcohol, its sensitizing effects. From a perspective of therapeutics, it means that NMDA receptors could be a valid target for treatment."

To those familiar with the concept of tolerance, the phenomenon known as behavioral sensitization is intuitively confusing. Yet many aspects of the processes that underlie the transition from initial drinking to uncontrolled drinking remain unknown and under research. For example, studies of amphetamine and cocaine have shown that, with repeated and intermittent administration, both behavioral and neurochemical responses are progressively enhanced. This phenomenon, behavioral sensitization, contrasts with the well-known observation that repeated, frequent or continuous drug administration can lead to many diminished responses (tolerance). Indeed, behavioral sensitization is also called "reverse tolerance." Despite the potential confusion, behavioral sensitization may help explain how substances of abuse can become addicting.

"We believe that people may drink more and more because of the pleasurable and euphoric effects of alcohol," said Camarini, "and these effects increase with time. In fact, there are theories that, after time, once this phenomenon is

Contact: Rosana Camarini, Ph.D.
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

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