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Gut Microbes and Alcohol Addiction

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The Connection between Gut Microbes and Alcohol Addiction

The digestive system is full of bacteria and other microorganisms that play key roles in helping the body function and maintaining our physical health.

Navigation: Human Gut Microbiota and Chronic Alcohol Exposure: Is There a Connection?, New Study Explores Possible Connection between Gut Microbes and Alcohol Addiction, What is Alcohol Use Disorder?, Liver Disease and the Effects of Alcohol Use Disorder, How is Alcohol Addiction Currently Treated?, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


Recent studies have suggested that there may be a link between gut microbes and alcohol addiction. The gut microbiome refers to the community of microorganisms that live in the human digestive tract. These microbes play an important role in digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune function.

Some researchers have hypothesized that changes in the gut microbiome could be involved in the development of alcohol addiction. For example, studies have found that people with alcohol use disorder (AUD) have different gut microbiomes compared to people without AUD. Specifically, individuals with AUD tend to have a less diverse and less healthy gut microbiome.

Researchers from the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Medicine are exploring the potential long-term effects of transplanting gut bacterial species into patients who have advanced liver disease and alcohol use disorder. They believe that a healthy mix of beneficial bacteria may be able to help people recover from their alcohol addiction.


Human Gut Microbiota and Chronic Alcohol Exposure: Is There a Connection?

The digestive system is full of bacteria and other microorganisms that play key roles in helping the body function and maintaining our physical health.

VCU researchers are conducting a clinical trial that will help them understand how gut microbes could play a role in battling alcohol use disorder.

The study is called Intestinal Microbiota Transplant in Alcohol-Associated Liver Disease (IMPACT), and is the most recent work led by a professor from the Department of Internal Medicine’s Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, Jasmohan Bajaj, M.D., .

He is also one of the physicians working at the Richmond Veterans Affairs Medical Center. For several years, he has been investigating the connection between liver health, microbiomes, and addiction-related diseases.

Bajaj says that the study was motivated by the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the issue of excessive alcohol use in the United States. He says intestinal microbe transplantation could be a potential tool in the fight against alcohol addiction.


New Study Explores Possible Connection between Gut Microbes and Alcohol Addiction

Previous studies have shown that the microbes in our gut can play a role in essential functions like warding off infection, digesting nutrients, and even regulating our behavior. There are over a hundred million nerve cells lining the gastrointestinal tract, which allows the gut and brain to communicate with each other.

This is why researchers theorize that these gut microbes may have something to do with our alcohol metabolism and even the development of certain psychiatric disorders like substance use disorder and alcohol addiction.

Sometimes due to excessive alcohol use and other unhealthy habits, the microbial communities within our bodies are thrown out of balance. This can cause different medical problems. The effects can even reach the liver as well as the brain.

For example, in alcohol use disorder, excessive alcohol consumption can damage the intestinal lining, causing inflammation and disrupting the balance of gut bacteria. This can lead to increased intestinal permeability, allowing harmful substances to leak into the bloodstream and potentially triggering an immune response.

In addition, alcohol use disorder can also cause malnutrition, which can further weaken the intestinal lining and exacerbate intestinal permeability. This can contribute to a range of health problems, including liver disease, autoimmune disorders, and cognitive impairment.

Researchers believe that if you change the gut environment significantly, you may be able to influence the brain and alter your behavior in some ways.

The study involved a small-scale clinical trial wherein beneficial bacteria were extracted from a healthy person’s stool, and transplanted into patients who were suffering from advanced liver disease and severe alcohol use disorder. This initial trial revealed that the patients experienced improved brain function. It also reduced alcohol craving and improved their overall quality of life after a 15-day monitoring period. The transplant group also had fewer alcohol-related complications that led to hospitalizations compared to the people who were given a placebo.

The first trial was meant to test how safe it was to conduct microbiota transplantation on patients. The study will now focus on getting a more detailed alcohol behavioral focus to see if the method provided long lasting positive effects. The study will also involve a much larger group receiving gut microbiota from healthy human donors.

Aside from this study, there are other theories regarding the relationship between gut microbes and alcohol use disorder.

Animal studies have also provided some evidence that changes in the gut microbiome can affect alcohol consumption. For example, mice treated in a sterile environment and have no gut microbiome tend to consume less alcohol than mice with a normal microbiome.

However, much more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between the gut microbiome and alcohol addiction. It is still unclear whether changes in the microbiome are a cause or a consequence of alcohol addiction. Additionally, it is not yet known whether altering the gut microbiome could be an effective treatment for AUD. Future research may even explore the possibility of using gut microbiota to treat other conditions such as opioid use disorder.

The emerging research on the gut microbiome and alcohol addiction is promising, but more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between these two factors.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism, is a chronic and often progressive condition characterized by a physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. It involves compulsive alcohol use despite the negative consequences it may have on one’s health, relationships, and life in general.

An addicted person will keep on drinking even if they are already struggling with its various physical, mental, and social effects. This is a complex condition that can manifest in different ways. It is most commonly characterized by the following signs and symptoms:

A strong urge or craving to drink alcohol regularly

Difficulty controlling or limiting the amount of alcohol consumed

Continued drinking despite negative consequences such as health problems, relationship problems, or financial difficulties

Tolerance, which means that more alcohol is needed to achieve the same effect over time

Withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, sweating, anxiety, or nausea when attempting to quit or reduce alcohol consumption

Alcohol use disorder is a devastating condition that affects millions of people in the US. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 14.5 million adults aged 18 and older had alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the US in 2019. This represents 5.8% of the adult population. Additionally, 401,000 adolescents aged 12-17 had AUD that same year.

This is why researchers are still looking for new ways to effectively fight the effects of alcohol addiction.

Liver Disease and the Effects of Alcohol Use Disorder

As we all know, alcohol abuse is a common cause of liver disease. The liver is responsible for filtering toxins from the body, including alcohol.

When you drink alcohol, your liver works to break it down and remove it from your system. Excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption can damage liver cells, leading to inflammation and scarring of the liver. Over time, this can result in a condition called alcoholic liver disease, which can progress to more severe forms such as cirrhosis.

Alcoholic liver disease is a serious condition that can cause a range of symptoms, including fatigue, jaundice, abdominal pain, and swelling in the legs and abdomen. It can also increase the risk of liver cancer and liver failure, which can be life-threatening.

The risk of developing alcoholic liver disease depends on several factors, including the amount and duration of alcohol consumption, age, gender, and overall health. It’s important to be aware of the risks of alcohol abuse and to seek help if you’re struggling with alcohol addiction.

However, these aren’t the only effects of alcohol use disorder. It can affect more than just your liver. It can cause a variety of physical health problems such as pancreatitis, heart disease, high blood pressure, and increased risk of cancer.

It also causes mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. In fact, alcohol addiction usually co-occurs with mental disorders.

When you drink too much, you also suffer from cognitive impairment. It can impair your cognitive functioning, which may affect your memory, concentration, and ability to make decisions.

Cognitive impairment even puts you at risk of accidents and injuries, especially if you drink and drive. Not only are you putting yourself in danger of a car accident, you are also putting other people at risk, particularly those who are sharing the road with you.

Addiction has far reaching consequences that go beyond the individual level. It can cause social problems as well. It can ruin your relationships with your friends and family members. You may also suffer from financial problems and legal issues as you continue to engage in risky behaviors. Addicted individuals tend to prioritize alcohol over everything else, neglecting their relationships, responsibilities, and even the activities they used to love.

Alcohol use disorder can have a significant negative impact on a person’s physical health, mental health, and social well-being. Seeking help and treatment can help addicted people overcome their condition and improve their overall quality of life.

How is Alcohol Addiction Currently Treated?

Alcohol addiction can have severe effects on a person’s physical, emotional, and social well-being, but luckily, this chronic medical condition can be treated. While it cannot be cured, people who go through addiction treatment can learn to manage their condition and live long, healthy, and sober lives.

Treatment for alcohol addiction may include therapy, medication, and support groups to help the person achieve and maintain sobriety.

Everyone goes through addiction differently. Every individual struggling with alcohol addiction has unique circumstances and needs that must be addressed for successful recovery. Personalized treatment takes into account a person’s physical, emotional, psychological, and social factors that contribute to their addiction. This is why the best alcohol rehab programs offer personalized treatment.

While the exact treatment approach may vary from one person to another, it will usually involve a combination of medical detox and behavioral therapy.

Medical detox for alcoholism is a process of managing and treating the physical and psychological symptoms of alcohol withdrawal in a supervised and medically supervised setting. When alcohol dependent patients stop drinking or significantly reduce their alcohol intake, they tend to go through withdrawal.

The goal of medical detox is to help individuals safely and comfortably manage withdrawal symptoms while minimizing the risk of complications.

Meanwhile behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing, can help people with alcohol addiction identify and change their harmful thoughts and behaviors. They can also help people develop coping strategies to prevent relapse.

During treatment, medications may be used to help manage cravings, reduce withdrawal symptoms, and promote sobriety. Some commonly used medications for alcohol addiction include naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram.

Addiction recovery also has a social factor. People in recovery need to feel like they have the support of others around them. Support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and SMART Recovery, can provide a supportive environment for people in recovery. They offer a place to share experiences, receive encouragement, and develop a support network.

Alcohol rehab may be done in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Inpatient treatment involves staying at a treatment facility for a period of time to receive intensive therapy and support. Outpatient treatment involves regularly attending therapy sessions while living at home.

Both of these have their advantages and disadvantages. There is no one solution that fits everyone.

The most effective treatment approach may vary depending on the individual’s unique needs and circumstances. A combination of treatments may be necessary to achieve long-term sobriety. It’s important for individuals struggling with alcohol addiction to seek professional help and support from trained healthcare professionals.

Look for a rehab near you today that specializes in alcohol addiction treatment. Get started on the road to recovery by getting to know the treatment options that are available to you.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.


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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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