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Saturday, September 24, 2011


Thanks to Doc and Paul for pointing out the similarities between the normal function of our hypoxic drive receptors that regulate breathing by monitoring increased levels of CO2, and the defective down regulation of the mu opiate receptor that results in uncontrolled cravings for alcohol. Most of the debates on LinkedIn about the "causes" and treatments for alcoholism seem to be the result of confusion about the difference between a biologically imperative "drive" such as breathing, and a behavior pattern acquired by repetition rather than genetic pressure - such as toilet training or socially acceptable drinking. The issue that generates so much fraught debate seems to be - in which category do we place alcoholism? Are there sufficient cognitive emotional and spiritual abstract reason pathways to shut down the defective mu opiate receptor?  To whatever extent an alcoholic has inherited a defective regulatory mechanism, no amount of spiritual conditioning will supply sufficient negative feed back to turn off cravings completely or successfully in every instance when ever the receptor malfunctions. 

Everyone agrees that negative feedback from inhibitory pathways responsible for cognitive emotion and spiritual devotion cannot extinguish basic life functions. You can't pray hard enough or think clearly enough to stop yourself from eventually taking a breath while your head is being held underwater. The small number of neurons responsible for hypoxic drive cannot be completely influenced by the entire remainder of the human brain and nervous system.  Case closed.  No debate.  However, human strains that are susceptible to traditionally defined (Jellinek curve) alcoholism possess a genetically inherited control mechanism for craving alcohol through the mu opiate receptor.  Unlike the genetically controlled demand for air that is constant from birth, the opiate receptor has a life cycle of maturity and a daily circadian rhythm which can be influenced by environmental feedback - but not completely controlled, since, like breathing, the opiate receptor's circadian rhythm cannot be prayed or thought out of operation.