Study reveals alarming link between binge-drinking and anxiety

New research conducted on mice suggests repeated heavy drinking causes synaptic dysfunctions that lead to anxiety.

cocktail against green background
Credit: Pixabay
  • The study was conducted on mice, who were given the equivalent of five drinks daily for 10 days.
  • Images of the alcoholic mice brains showed synaptic dysfunctions related to microglia (immune cells in the brain).
  • The results suggest that regulating TNF, a signaling protein related to systemic inflammation, may someday play a part in treating alcohol addiction.

Having a few drinks may help you feel less anxious in the moment. But drinking heavily over a longer period of time seems to produce the opposite effect: increased anxiety-like behaviors, as a result of synaptic dysfunction.

That's the takeaway of a new study published this week in the journal Science Signaling.

For the study, researchers simulated a 10-day alcohol binge on one of two groups of mice. One group was given 1.5 grams per kilogram of ethyl alcohol each day, which translates to about five daily drinks for an adult human. The other was given water.

After 10 days, the researchers analyzed images of the mice brains, and conducted behavioral tests to measure anxiety. They found that the mice that had binged booze exhibited significantly more anxiety-like behaviors.

3D surface rendering of confocal maximum projection images showing volume reconstruction of PSD-95 within CD68 structures in microglia (Iba1+ cell) on tissue sections from prefrontal cortices of WT and TNF KO mice after exposure to EtOH or H2O

  1. Socodato et al.

Why? Images of the mice brains suggest that excessive alcohol consumption boosted production of TNF, a signaling protein related to systemic inflammation. Specifically, the increased production of TNF occurred within microglia (immune cells) located in the prefrontal cortex.

This caused microglia to "prune" more synapses than usual. The researchers suspect that this aberrant synaptic pruning disrupted normal neuronal activity in the prefrontal cortex, causing higher levels of anxiety among the boozed-up mice.

To be sure, this study focused on mice, not humans. But study co-author João Relvas, a researcher at the University of Porto, told Inverse that he and his colleagues "don't have any reason to believe that the same mechanisms will not be operating in the human brain."

It's far from the first study to show how alcohol can damage the brain. Other research shows that long-term heavy drinking can cause shrinkage of the hippocampus, more rapid aging of the brain, increased rates of alcohol addiction among young people, and Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome, to name a few potential consequences.

The role of TNF in anxiety

But the new study revealed an interesting finding about TNF. To find out how TNF interacts with anxiety, the researchers gave to the alcoholic mice a drug called pomalidomide, which blocks the production of TNF. After, the mice showed improved synaptic functioning and less anxiety-like behaviors.

"This study suggests that regulating the levels of TNF might eventually be useful when treating alcohol addiction," Relvas told Inverse.

bottle shadows

Pixabay

Still, it's unclear whether or how TNF regulation might work its way into alcohol addiction treatments. After all, even if science can fix the anxiety aspect of alcoholism, heavy drinking still exacts heavy tolls on other parts of the body and brain.

For now, it's probably best to keep your drinking within moderate levels: Most research suggests that having one to two drinks per day yields no significant negative health consequences.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams

Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.

Videos
  • There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
  • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
  • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
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