Researchers have discovered genetic variants that may explain why some people have more severe symptoms than others during alcohol withdrawal. Eventually, this study could help to put in place new treatments.
Worldwide, 91 million people would suffer from alcohol-related disorders, according to figures from the World Health Organization (WHO). Nevertheless, we still know very little about withdrawal symptoms. Why do some people suffer from stopping alcohol more than others? According to an international study published Tuesday, September 25 in the journal, Clinical and Experimental Researchcertain genetic variants are at the origin of this inequality.
By analyzing DNA from different populations, researchers at Yale University of Medicine and Aarhus University in Denmark found that some variants in the SORCS2 gene could indicate how difficult it would be for an individual to withdrew alcohol. Because these variants can disrupt the mechanisms of stress regulation in the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in the reward system that also regulates addiction. Thus, the activity of the genetic variant may restrict the ability of the brain to adapt during a sudden cessation of alcohol.
Another interesting observation is that not all populations are exposed in the same way. Thus, people of European descent are more affected (one white person in ten is affected) by these variants than those of African-American origin who do not seem to have genetic predispositions to develop severe symptoms during alcohol withdrawal. .
Symptoms similar to those of the "hangover"
Ultimately, these results could help put in place better strategies in the treatment against alcoholism, say the researchers."A better understanding of the genes that may be involved in alcohol withdrawal symptoms may help to make new drugs to reduce these symptoms, which may help reduce alcohol consumption," says Andrew H. Smith, lead author of the study.
While it has long been known that genetics is half responsible for alcoholism in an individual, this is the first study of its impact on withdrawal symptoms.
During the latter, the patient will suffer from symptoms similar to those of the "hangover" but more pronounced. Among the most common: nausea, migraines, tremors and hypertension. As uncomfortable as they are, these symptoms are not dangerous and usually disappear after 7 to 10 days of abstinence.
Five million French people suffer from alcohol-related problems
However, as was explained in the study, some people may be affected much more severely, for example with epileptic seizures, alcoholic delusions (auditory and visual hallucinations) or even delirium tremens. It is the most serious alcohol withdrawal syndrome and can persist for several days. The person then has extremely bright hallucinations and violent tremulations. It also has fever, palpitations and dehydration symptoms. If thanks to current methods a fatal outcome is very rare, it happens unfortunately sometimes.
In France, an estimated five million people have medical, psychological and social problems due to alcohol consumption. And every year, it costs 45,000 lives in the country. In detail, alcohol is the cause of one third of fatal traffic accidents, 25 to 35% of non-fatal car accidents, 64% of fires and burns, 40% of falls, 48% hypothermia and 20% of suicides, notes the website Alcohol Drugs Addiction. Alcohol is also reported to be involved in 23,000 deaths from upper aerodigestive tract cancers, cirrhosis or premature death related to alcohol dependence.
"Alcohol kills more each year than opioids, but there are few effective treatments to help people with alcohol problems," says Andrew H. Smith in his study. "For those who suffer from very severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it is one more barrier to face in trying to reduce its consumption," he adds. Indeed, drugs proposed to help patients to reduce alcohol such as baclofen, nalmefene or sodium oxybate are often very heavy to bear. Side effects such as nausea, dizziness and headaches all too often cause patients to abandon their current treatment.