PAY­ING THE TAB

Men's Health (Singapore) - - HEALTH -

The sim­ple fact is that we may have a drink­ing prob­lem.

The re­search com­mu­nity now be­lieves that many peo­ple who have two or three drinks a day have a med­i­cal prob­lem – that is, if they oc­ca­sion­ally drink more than they in­tended to, wish they could cut down, or spend too much time think­ing about drink­ing.

“If you’re un­com­fort­able about your drink­ing, if it’s caus­ing you stress, then you prob­a­bly need treat­ment,” says Dr Mark Wil­len­bring, founder of the All­tyr Clinic and former di­rec­tor at the Na­tional In­sti­tute on Al­co­hol Abuse and Al­co­holism (NIAAA).

This field’s ter­mi­nol­ogy is evolv­ing: Al­co­hol use dis­or­der, or AUD, is the phrase of choice to en­com­pass the range of peo­ple in trou­ble. Peo­ple like me, and maybe you.

“What most of us think of as an al­co­hol prob­lem or al­co­hol de­pen­dence is a stereo­type that re­ally only ap­plies to the sick­est 10 or 15 per­cent of peo­ple,” says Dr Wil­len­bring. The most re­cent data show that roughly 14 per­cent of Amer­i­can adults have suf­fered from AUD in the past year, and that three quar­ters of those peo­ple look more like me than the stereo­typ­i­cal al­co­holic. (Think Ni­co­las Cage in Leav­ing LasVe­gas.)

The bi­ol­ogy of booze is also com­ing into sharper fo­cus. Drugs like heroin and mar­i­juana in­flu­ence ded­i­cated sys­tems of the brain, but al­co­hol acts as both a stim­u­lant and a de­pres­sant, with ef­fects spread over sev­eral brain sec­tors.

Like val­ium and xanax, it binds to the re­cep­tors of a neu­ro­trans­mit­ter called Gaba, which makes you re­lax in a ma­jor way. But through a kind of bio­chem­i­cal magic, it also jacks up the re­lease of dopamine in your brain’s plea­sure cen­tre, giv­ing you that feel­ing of eu­pho­ria.

It turns out men are twice as likely as women to have AUD. In re­search from Yale and Columbia uni­ver­si­ties, the brain scans of male drinkers re­vealed sig­nif­i­cantly greater dopamine re­lease than those of women. Over time, a drinker’s brain adapts

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