What is in that Drink: The Biological Actions of Ethanol, Acetaldehyde, and Salsolinol

  • Gerald A. DeehanJr.Email author
  • Mark S. Brodie
  • Zachary A. Rodd
Part of the Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences book series (CTBN, volume 13)


Alcohol abuse and alcoholism represent substantial problems that affect a large portion of individuals throughout the world. Extensive research continues to be conducted in an effort to identify the biological basis of the reinforcing properties of alcohol in order to develop effective pharmacotherapeutic and behavioral interventions. One theory that has developed within the alcohol field over the past four decades postulates that the reinforcing properties of alcohol are due to the action of the metabolites/products of alcohol within the central nervous system (CNS). The most extreme version of this theory suggests that the biologically active metabolites/products of alcohol, created from the breakdown from alcohol, are the ultimate source of the reinforcing properties of alcohol. The contrary theory proposes that the reinforcing properties of alcohol are mediated completely through the interaction of the ethanol molecule with several neurochemical systems within the CNS. While there are scientific findings that offer support for both of these stances, the reinforcing properties of alcohol are most likely generated through a complex series of peripheral and central effects of both alcohol and its metabolites. Nonetheless, the development of a greater understanding for how the metabolites/products of alcohol contribute to the reinforcing properties of alcohol is an important factor in the development of efficacious pharmacotherapies for alcohol abuse and alcoholism. This chapter is intended to provide a historical perspective of the role of acetaldehyde (the first metabolite of alcohol) in alcohol reinforcement as well as review the basic research literature on the effects of acetaldehyde (and acetaldehyde metabolites/products) within the CNS and how these function with regard to alcohol reward.


Acetaldehdye Alcohol Alcoholism Alcohol metabolite Alcohol Aldehyde dehydrogenase reinforcement Antabuse Disulfiram Salsolinol Tetrahydrobetacarbolines Tetrahydroisoquinoline alkaloids  







Alcohol dehydrogenase


A-type potassium current


Blood ethanol concentration


Central nervous system


Conditioned place preference


Delta opioid receptor

2 D2







Gamma-aminobutyric acid




Hyperpolarization-activated inward current


Intra-cerebral ventricular




Medial prefrontal cortex




Mu opioid receptor


National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism


Nucleus accumbens core


Nucleus accumbens shell


Nucleus accumbens


Serotonin 3








Tetrahydroisoquinoline alkaloids




Aldehyde dehydrogenase


United States Food and Drug Administration


Ventral tegmental area


World Health Organization


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gerald A. DeehanJr.
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mark S. Brodie
    • 2
  • Zachary A. Rodd
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Psychiatric ResearchIndiana University School of MedicineIndianapolisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Physiology and BiophysicsUniversity of IllinoisChicagoUSA

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