Washington, July 30 : The mere sight, smell and taste of a person's favorite drink can elicit strong cravings for alcohol, according to a new study led by an Indian-origin researcher.
The study says that responses to such cues that are associated with the positive effects of drinking are a lead cause of relapse in abstinent alcoholics.
Using a behavioral animal model, the research team has found that the physical surroundings where alcohol cues are experienced can greatly influence the ability of those cues to trigger relapse.
The study has been scheduled for publication in the August 1st issue of Biological Psychiatry.
Specifically, the research team taught rats to learn that a brief tone signaled when a small amount of alcohol would be available in a fluid receptacle for them to drink. his learning occurred in a distinctive environment consisting of a particular appearance, smell, and lighting. They were then put into a second, unique context with a different appearance, smell, and lighting, and were repeatedly exposed to the tone but never given alcohol.
After several sessions in this new context, the rats gradually learned that the tone no longer predicted alcohol and consequently stopped checking the fluid receptacle.
However, upon re-exposure to the original context where alcohol was available, presentation of the tone once again caused the rats to immediately check for it.
"This finding demonstrates the power of environments to trigger relapse to alcohol-seeking in response to alcohol-predictive cues," said lead author Nadia Chaudhri, Ph. D., with the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at UCSF.
"This effect is highly detrimental to humans who are trying to abstain from drinking," she added.