Aug. 19, 2023 – According to the CDC, more than 140,000 Americans are dying each year from alcohol-related causes, and the rate of deaths has been rising for years, especially during the pandemic.

The idea: For occasional drinkers, alcohol causes the brain to release more dopamine, a chemical that makes you feel good. Chronic alcohol use, however, causes the brain to produce, and process, less dopamine, and this persistent dopamine deficit has been linked to alcohol relapse.

There is currently no way to reverse the changes in the brain brought about by AUD, but a team of US researchers suspected that an in-development gene therapy for Parkinson’s disease might work as a dopamine-replenishing treatment for alcoholism, too.

To find out, they tested it in heavy-drinking monkeys — and the animals’ alcohol consumption dropped by 90% over the course of a year. 

How it works: The treatment centers on the protein GDNF (“glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor”), which supports the survival of certain neurons, including ones linked to dopamine.

For the new study, a harmless virus was used to deliver the gene that codes for GDNF into the brains of four monkeys that, when they had the option, drank heavily— the amount of ethanol-infused water they consumed would be equivalent to a person having nine drinks per day.