Neuroscientists at the University of Utah believe that they’ve found the exact part of the brain that causes the ‘never again’ feeling during hangovers brought on by a night of drinking. Anyone who has partied just a little too hard has woken up swearing never to touch alcohol again in between trips to the porcelain throne and drinking Pepto Bismol out of a sippy cup. Scientists at the the University of Utah are proposing the feeling originates in the lateral hebenula, the area of the brain that houses our ‘reward-negative’ neurons. Reward-negative neurons are activated by stimuli associated with unpleasant events such as putting your hand on a hot stove or evidently- drinking too much.
When our lateral hebenula is stimulated our brain’s ability to produce the chemicals responsible for feeling good- like serotonin and dopamine- is inhibited. Which is why we wake up filled with regret after one (or five) too many. The lateral hebenula is also responsible for an avoidance response but not one that is very long lasting and the lateral hebenula doesn’t play a part in memory processing which is why we all inevitably go out and drink too much again anyways. Especially if a person has a chronically under-active lateral hebenula.
While the lateral hebenula is still a relatively mysterious region of the brain as scientists have yet to discover how exactly it works there are currently two prevailing theories. The first being that the region is responsible for regulated the level of discomfort experienced by a person after a bad experience, the second theory is that it controls how well a person learns from a mistake if they do at all.
The scientists who conducted the study that produced these findings are optimistic that the new information will help medical and mental health professionals better understand why people struggle with alcohol dependency and who may be more prone to developing an alcohol dependency based on biological predispositions.