Addiction & Substance Overuse

A Possible Treatment for Binge Drinking

Scientists have discovered profound changes in proteins that could lead to treatment for alcohol-related liver diseases.

The researchers, from the University of Missouri School of Medicine, said the changes occur because of binge drinking. The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse defines binge drinking as five drinks over a two-hour period for men, and four drinks over a two-hour period for women.

The risks of chronic alcohol abuse are well known: It causes irreversible liver damage and is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and cancer. And binge drinking “amplifies” liver damage, according to Shivendra Shukla, PhD, Margaret Proctor Mulligan Professor at the MU School of Medicine and lead author of the study.

Shukla said his research analyzed the effect on the liver of histones, proteins that help DNA function correctly. Changes, or modifications, occur naturally in histones, but the investigators found that binge drinking leads to unnatural modifications. These changes have a damaging effect on a person’s genetic code.

Ultimately, Shukla said, the modifications cause inflammation and cell damage and eventually become the cause of serious liver diseases such as cirrhosis and cancer.

Binge drinking is emerging as a public-health issue, with the Centers for Disease Control saying that one in six adults binge drinks about four times in a month.

“This is not a problem that is going away,” said Shukla. “It is actually growing. More work is needed on the research we are doing, but findings such as these are very promising and may lead to future treatments for alcohol-related liver damage.”

The study was published in Hepatology International, the journal of the Asian Pacific Association for the Study of the Liver.

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