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April is Alcohol Awareness Month

March 30, 2016
by Jill Max

Whether it’s a single occasion or over a period of time, drinking too much can take a serious toll on your health. It can increase your risk of developing certain cancers and can damage or weaken your heart, liver, pancreas, and immune system. Yale conducts clinical research using the most advanced methods available to understand alcohol dependence and develop improved ways to treat it. April is Alcohol Awareness Month, an ideal time to consider participating in a research study.

Graeme Mason, PhD, studies how the brain processes alcohol with the goal of developing potential treatments for alcohol dependence. The brain consumes mostly sugar for energy, but it can also consume acetate, the chemical found in vinegar. When you drink alcohol, your liver converts it to acetate, which the brain can use for fuel. Research by Dr. Mason and his colleagues has shown that the brains of heavy drinkers have a much higher capacity to burn acetate compared to light drinkers. Their brains adapt to these higher levels of acetate, which encourage further drinking. When heavy drinkers quit drinking, their bodies withdraw not just from alcohol, but also from acetate.

Dr. Mason is conducting a study using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to further understand how acetate is consumed in the brains of four distinct groups of people: 1) participants who are currently abusing alcohol and would like to stop drinking; 2) long-term sober people who have been treated for alcohol use disorders and now have been in recovery six months or more; 3) light drinkers who have never had a problem with alcohol; 4) heavy drinkers who are not dependent on alcohol. He hopes that the findings of this research may lead to a potential treatment that will help people to more safely quit drinking:

  • For those who are currently abusing alcohol, want to quit drinking, and are eligible for the study, he is offering free inpatient alcohol treatment. If you are 21-50 years old, medically stable, not using illicit drugs and currently drinking regularly, you may be eligible. The study involves a two to four week stay at a research treatment facility in New Haven, where you will undergo medically supervised alcohol detoxification and have the opportunity to participate in a substance abuse treatment program. You will also undergo brain imaging scans, using MRI, that show how quickly your brain uses acetate and other chemicals. In addition to free treatment, financial compensation is offered (up to $700 for completion of this study). To learn more or to find out if you qualify, please call (203) 584-8802 or e-mail 30DayStudy@yale.edu.
  • For those who are recovering alcoholics who have been sober for at least six months, as well as the heavy and light drinkers we will conduct MRI during outpatient visits. If you are 21-50 years old, medically stable, and not using illicit drugs you may be eligible. Financial compensation is offered (up to $380 for completion). To learn more or to find out if you qualify, please call (475) 201-2191 or DrinkingStudy@yale.edu.
“People who participate in these studies help us understand a new aspect of alcohol dependence and may help us find a way to make alcohol detox a little easier,” says Dr. Mason. “Clinical research helps them, their families, and their communities.”
Submitted by Lisa Brophy on March 30, 2016