Binge drinking is defined as consuming eight or more units of alcohol in a single session for men, and six or more for women / HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images

Experts hope the protein could also prevent people from becoming alcoholics

A naturally-occurring protein in the brain could spell the end of binge-drinking, according to a new study.

Binge drinking is defined as consuming eight or more units of alcohol in a single session for men, and six or more for women, according to the NHS. However, this can vary depending on a person’s tolerance and the speed at which they drink.

Scientists believe the urge to binge-drink can be suppressed by harnessing a compound in the brain called Neuropeptide Y (NPY), and could also stop some people from becoming alcoholic.

Dr Thomas L. Kash, who led the study by the University of North Carolina published in ‘Nature Neuroscience’, explained: “We found that NPY acted in a part of the brain known as the extended amygdala (or bed nucleus of the stria terminalis) that we know is linked to both stress and reward.

"This anti-drinking effect was due to increasing inhibition (the brakes) on a specific population of cells that produce a ‘pro-drinking’ molecule called corticotropin releasing factor (CRF). 

“When we then mimicked the actions of NPY using engineered proteins, we were also able to suppress binge alcohol drinking in mice.”

 

Scientists believe the NPY system could be used as a marker or treatment for alcohol abuse, as it is changes if a person drinks alcohol long-term.

The study also made “novel and important” discoveries by recognising how and where NPY “blunts binge drinking”, as well as how the system is compromised before a person becomes dependent on alcohol, said Dr Todd E. Thiele, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at UNC and a member of the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies.

“What is particularly exciting is that these findings suggest that restoring NPY may not only be useful for treating alcohol use disorders, but may also protect some individuals from becoming alcohol dependent,” said Thiele.

The technique could potentially save billions worldwide, as when the financial impact of alcohol-related problems on A&E, GPs and hospital outpatient clinics is considered, the cost to the NHS of alcohol harm is nearly £3 billion according to Alcohol Concern.

The study comes after the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommended that drinkers who have half a bottle of wine or three pints of beer a night could be offered a pill to reduce alcohol consumption.

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