Nico was 13 years old when he drank alcohol for the first time.
“I knew right away on day one that I was overdoing it, because that’s how the effects were then. Well, I had quite an accident that night.
Nico grew up in the countryside.
“It’s actually normal to start so early.”
The one drink becomes a routine – like school, eating and sleeping, alcohol soon becomes part of Nico’s daily life. He becomes addicted. Several times, he decides to stop and talk to friends about it. But they do. Even alcohol poisoning does not change his behavior.
His drinking gets worse when Nico begins chef training after high school. Alcohol and fine dining go hand in hand, says the 24-year-old, who not only drinks while eating, but also behind the scenes. Against stress, in case of problems, after long shifts. Nico also drinks at work.
“Until one weekend where I was partying with a few guys and it got so bad that the next day when I was sober again, I decided: Ok, now it’s really the cut. Now, I really have to stop.”
Nearly two million alcoholics
“If you look at it from the outside, it’s actually the consequential damage that you see first. The classic consequential damage would be changes in liver values on a physical level.
According to ICD 11, the following criteria must be met for alcohol addiction: physical dependence, loss of control, increased alcohol tolerance and strong craving for addiction, even if alcohol consumption damages reputation of the person. Almost 1.8 million men and women between the ages of 18 and 64 are dependent on alcohol – in 2021 in Germany.
According to Wolfgang Bensel, there is only one way out of addiction:
“We will only be able to fight addiction if we treat the consequential damage at the physical level, if we help people achieve successful withdrawal, that is, detoxification from the addictive substance, and if the person has a decision deep to abstain. These are the ways we must take to fight addictions.
Other approaches, on the other hand, rely on drugs. Marcus Meinhardt from the Central Institute for Mental Health in Mannheim is investigating how the craving for alcohol can be curbed with psilocybin. So with a substance that is contained in so-called magic mushrooms and has an effect similar to LSD.
“Actually, it wasn’t our idea. If you go back in history, there was already a lot of research on this about 80 years ago. Yes, when these substances were discovered and when LSD was also first synthesized. There was already research in the field of addiction, and it was relatively promising at the time.”
However, the studies were often too small, and later LSD bans made further research more difficult. Today we know that psilocybin affects the so-called glutamate system in the brain.
“You know when different stimuli associated with drug use – whether it’s the smell of alcohol or pictures of it or in different contexts, such as walking past a bar – lead to a release of glutamate, which then triggers the craving for the substance.”
Studies have shown that the glutamate receptor “mGluR2” plays an important role in controlling food cravings. This receptor is a sort of biochemical receiving antenna for the messenger substance glutamate. It regulates the amount of glutamate released in different regions of the brain.
However, this receptor is not very present in people dependent on alcohol. This is indicated by samples from Australia. Marcus Meinhardt’s research on alcohol-dependent rats also highlights the importance of the receptor in the development of alcohol dependence.
“So their craving for alcohol is greater when that receptor isn’t there. And if you restore that receiver, we were able to reverse those behaviors.”
In rats, it was psilocybin that helped repair the glutamate receptor.
The active ingredient in the magic mushroom stimulated a gene that restores the receptor – through this mechanism it may be able to prevent relapses into alcohol addiction.
According to Marcus Meinhardt, it is still unclear how long this effect will last. But the research findings are an indication of physiological processes that may play a role in the development of alcohol dependence.
Markus Backmund, Chairman of the Board of the German Society for Addiction Medicine, therefore calls for a rethink: In Germany, alcohol consumption is still not sufficiently recognized as a disease.
“It’s similar in the medical profession, the idea is, ‘Well, someone just has to want it or have a strong character. And then they won’t get addicted. And then you stop drinking. And that’ is wrong.”
For a long time, Nico also wanted his alcohol addiction to be taken seriously – and at the same time realized that he could only fight it of his own free will. After his stay at the clinic, he therefore wishes to give up his job as a cook and look for a job in an industry where alcohol is not always present. After almost three months, he left the clinic.
“I’ve pinned a lot of good thoughts and beliefs here. We’ll see if they can handle life.”