A new study focuses on the neurobiological relationship between anxiety and alcohol use.
It offers a possible mechanism for vicious cycle of alcohol use leading to anxiety and this anxiety leading to more alcohol use.
The researchers found that short-term alcohol exposure increased the number of dendritic spines in certain regions of the amygdala, producing anti-anxiety effects. Alcohol-dependent animals eventually developed a tolerance to the anxiety-lowering effects of alcohol.
The researchers traced the anti-anxiety effect to the production of a particular protein, Arc, in response to a nerve growth factor called BDNF that is stimulated by alcohol exposure. BDNF is vital in the functioning and maintenance of neurons.
When alcohol was withheld from animals that had been chronically exposed, they developed high anxiety. Levels of BDNF and Arc -- and the number of dendritic spines -- were decreased in the amygdala. But the researchers were able to eliminate the anxiety in the alcohol-dependent animals by restoring BDNF and Arc to normal levels.
Pandey suggested that an initial easing of anxiety may encourage people to begin to use alcohol, while for chronic users, a lack of alcohol provokes high anxiety, creating a need to continue drinking to feel normal.
I think we need to know a lot more about this anti-anxiety effect before going off the races with anxiety as a pathway to alcoholism.