(CBS) Does your immune system determine if you're a sloppy drunk? A new study suggests immunity is behind some alcohol-related behaviors like slurring speech and stumbling.
Previous research shows that alcohol affects nervous system cells, but the scientists behind the study wanted to see how drinking alcohol changes the brain's immune system cells, known as glial cells.
"It's amazing to think that despite 10,000 years of using alcohol, and several decades of investigation into the way that alcohol affects the nerve cells in our brain, we are still trying to figure out exactly how it works," study author Dr. Mark Hutchinson, a neuroscience researcher from the University of Adelaide in Australia, said in a written statement.
For the study - published in the September 29 issue of the British Journal of Pharmacology - researchers blocked immune system receptors in mice's brains with drugs or by genetically altering them. They then gave mice a dose of booze to see how they'd react. Mice without the receptors had better reflexes, were able to stay perched on a rotating platform longer, and were less sedated than their counterparts that had the receptors.
"This work has significant implications for our understanding of the way alcohol affects us, as it is both an immunological and neuronal response," Hutchinson said in the statement. "Such a shift in mindset has significant implications for identifying individuals who may have bad outcomes after consuming alcohol, and it could lead to a way of detecting people who are at greater risk of developing brain damage after long-term drinking."
Hutchinson also said the research can lead to a "stay sober" drug that blocks the receptors. His study suggests the drug would help fight alcoholism, or stave off the effects from those nights where you've had a few too many.
He told Adelaide Now, "Problem drinkers could take a tablet once a day or alcoholics may have a rod implanted so the drug is constantly delivered."