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Sex-deprived fruit flies turn to alcohol: Do humans?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Does social rejection lead to drugs and alcohol? Fruit flies suggest it might.

Researchers have long wondered what happens in the brain that leads to addiction in humans. It seems fruit flies might provide some insight about how lack of social interaction can drive people toward seeking pleasure from drugs and alcohol. In a new study, scientists observed how sex-deprived fruit flies turn to alcohol for pleasure. Could the same type of social rejection drive humans to addiction?

Troy Zars, an associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri and neurobiology expert says fruit flies share some of the same brain pathways as mammals. Studying the behavior of fruit flies could help scientists understand more about drug and alcohol addiction in humans.

The researchers found fruit flies without access to females had a strong preference to food containing 15% alcohol in the study. But those who had mated repeatedly for several days showed no preference for food spiked with alcohol.

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Addiction to drugs and alcohol might have a social component in addition to physical reasons.

Understanding social reasons why people might turn to drugs and alcohol, like fruit flies did in the study when they were sex-deprived, could provide “..insights into a neural circuit that links a rewarding social interaction with a lasting change in behavior preference”, Zars said in a press release.

Zars has been working with flies for years to understand how their small brains work to drive behavior. His research found lovelorn, sex-deprived male fruit flies turn to alcohol for solace and pleasure. Do humans who feel rejected become easily addicted to alcohol and drugs? More research is needed to find the answer.

News Bureau
University of Missouri
March 15, 2012

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