Molecular mechanisms underlying alcohol-drinking behaviours

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2016 Sep;17(9):576-91. doi: 10.1038/nrn.2016.85. Epub 2016 Jul 21.


The main characteristic of alcohol use disorder is the consumption of large quantities of alcohol despite the negative consequences. The transition from the moderate use of alcohol to excessive, uncontrolled alcohol consumption results from neuroadaptations that cause aberrant motivational learning and memory processes. Here, we examine studies that have combined molecular and behavioural approaches in rodents to elucidate the molecular mechanisms that keep the social intake of alcohol in check, which we term 'stop pathways', and the neuroadaptations that underlie the transition from moderate to uncontrolled, excessive alcohol intake, which we term 'go pathways'. We also discuss post-transcriptional, genetic and epigenetic alterations that underlie both types of pathways.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Drinking Behavior / physiology*
  • Ethanol / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Net / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Ethanol