Alcohol addiction isn’t a hot topic in America, but it should be. While opioid use disorders are becoming more common, alcohol has been an addictive culprit for centuries, without any cure in sight. America alone has 5.1 million adults ages 18 and older with what experts would call an alcohol use disorder, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. However, science has not ceased looking for a biological explanation for alcoholism. And now, they say that they have made some incredible discoveries.

Scientists have been studying the brain to solve the puzzle of addiction for a while, and there are many treatments for those with an alcohol use disorder.

New research published last week in Science contains information about why some people – not all – who abuse alcohol become addicted while others do not. Sime people overdo sometimes, but there are others who drink compulsively. It’s been known for a while this is not a matter of willpower, yet it’s been a vague journey to understanding how and why biology comes into play when it comes to addiction.

The Study

Like many studies, the primary research was done using rats. It’s important to note that rats, above all things, love sugar in their “natural” environments – which could be the alley, the street, or your cupboard if you’re unfortunate. Rats love sugar so much that scientists often refer to it as an “addiction” – even though it is a biological preference.

The team of researchers at Linköping University in Sweden decided to put this love of sweets to the test and make the love of sweets compete with a love of alcohol. When given a choice between booze and a tastier, more biologically desirable sugar substitute, a small group of rats consistently preferred the alcohol.

The researchers then were able to use these rats to identify the specific brain region and molecular dysfunction most likely responsible for these addictive tendencies, at least in rats.

Researchers believe their findings and study design could be steps toward developing an effective pharmaceutical therapy for alcohol addiction. People have been searching for a biological treatment for alcohol use disorders for many years. Read an interpretation of the study in full here.