London: Scientists claim to have discovered why a few drinks make you feel good.
Researchers from the University of California`s Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Centre found for the first time that consuming alcohol releases feel-good chemicals in an area of the human brain often referred to as the "pleasure centre".
The rush of chemicals in that specific brain region after drinking produce feelings of pleasure and reward, the said.
The findings may also provide a clue to how problem drinking develops in the first place, they added.
Previously, scientists had deduced from animal studies that the pleasurable effects of alcohol come from the release of endorphins in the brain.
But new study, which used scanning technology to "light up" the brain regions of drinkers, showed that the chemical releases in two brain regions -- the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal cortex.
"This is something that we have speculated about for 30 years, based on animal studies, but haven`t observed in humans until now," lead researcher Jennifer Mitchell was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.
"It provides the first direct evidence of how alcohol makes people feel good," Prof Mitchell said, adding that the greater feeling of reward may "cause them to drink too much".
For the study, published in journal Science Translational Medicine, the scientists used positron emission tomography, or PET, imaging to observe the immediate effects of alcohol in the brains of 13 heavy drinkers and 12 "control" subjects.
Drinking led to a release of endorphins in all the study participants. The more it released in the nucleus accumbens, the greater the feelings of pleasure reported by each drinker.
However, as the levels of endorphins in the orbitofrontal cortex went up, heavy drinkers felt more intoxicated – but not those in the control group, the researchers said.
"This indicates that the brains of heavy drinkers are changed in a way that makes them more likely to find alcohol pleasant, and may be a clue to how problem drinking develops in the first place, Prof Mitchell said.
The researchers said the results indicated that the brains of heavy or problem drinkers are changed in a way that makes them more likely to find alcohol pleasant, and may be a clue to how problem drinking develops in the first place.
Howard Fields, a senior author on the study, said the results show a possible way to improve on existing medication.
Although it is effective, the drug naltrexone – which prevents binding at several opioid receptor sites -- is not widely accepted as a treatment for alcohol dependence since it can make people feel depressed.
"If we better understand how endorphins control drinking, we will have a better chance of creating more targeted therapies for substance addiction," he added.