A research team led by scientists from the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco found they could reduce compulsive drinking in rats by inhibiting key neural pathways that run between the prefrontal cortex, which is involved with higher functions such as critical thinking and risk assessment, and the nucleus accumbens, a critical area for reward and motivation.
The authors noted that there are already several FDA-approved medications that target activity in these pathways, thus potentially opening an accelerated track to new treatments for compulsive drinking.
Hopf explained that this alcohol-quinine solution, which he described as "like a vodka tonic without the sugar," is often used as a rodent model of compulsive drinking, or "drinking in the face of negative consequences." In rats, he said, the negative consequence is the bitter taste, while in humans who drink compulsively, "the negative consequences are profound: people continue to drink despite the potential loss of jobs, marriages, freedom, even their lives."
"In other words, only the compulsive drinking was affected," said Seif.