Just in time for the weekend, this study from Dutch researcher Ingmar Franken says that while alcohol does not make good things any better it can make bad things a lot less worse. Previously researchers thought that alcohol primarily affected the 'reward' system in the brain. Franken found that was not so.
In the case of pleasant experiences alcohol was found to have hardly any influence. The ‘rosy glasses’ that alcohol is said to cause is therefore just a temporary filter for the more 'sober' issues in life.
Franken gave two groups of volunteers a different drink. One set of the drinks had a small quantity of alcohol. Then Franken showed all of the volunteers pictures of neutral objects, mutilated bodies (unpleasant) and erotic couples (pleasant).
The volunteers from the alcohol group were found to respond less to the unpleasant pictures, whereas their response to the pleasant pictures hardly differed from that of the group who did not receive alcohol. Franken measured the activity of the brain areas using electro-encephalography (EEG). Initially alcohol inhibited all information processing. In a later stage, after 0.7 seconds, the alcohol mainly inhibited the negative information.
In a similar experiment Franken also demonstrated that the "reward substance" dopamine played no role during the forming of a response to the pictures. Franken's next project is to look for other substances that are involved in the process.
Previous research concluded that those who ‘drink to forget’ are more sensitive to addiction than other drinkers so while an evening of drinking to briefly forget might seem attractive, it is not without risk in the long term.
The alcohol study of Franken is part of his research into the mechanisms underlying pleasure and reward. Franken started this research in 2003 when he was awarded a Veni grant by NWO. He will complete his research this month.
Source: Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research