Cocktail

A clinical psychology postdoctoral fellow at MUSC is studying how the brains of people who are heavy drinkers react to images of liquor or bear.

The guy who brightens when he sees a foaming mug of beer is a staple of cartoons and commercials, but a Medical University of South Carolina researcher says the figure is underrepresented in scientific literature.

“We don’t know anything until we demonstrate it scientifically,” says William Mellick, a clinical psychology postdoctoral fellow who’s studying how people react when shown images of candy, couples holding hands and alcohol.

According to Mellick, researchers haven't yet established whether heavy drinkers whose brains activate at the sight of booze will have a similar reaction when the visual cue is a steak.   

“What we hypothesize from the get-go is heavy drinkers, when they see images of wine, liquor or beer, their brains are going to light up,” Mellick says. By contrast, he suspects light drinkers are more likely to respond warmly to depictions of “natural rewards,” such as food or family. If brain scans bear out his hunch, his work could eventually help shape treatment strategies for alcohol-use disorders.

Regardless of what the data yields, Mellick says the the Charleston Alcohol Research Center's overriding goal is to better understand why people shift from social drinking to disordered drinking. But he’s thus far had trouble signing up enough light drinkers in Charleston to fill out his study.

“With recruitment, I’m not like, ‘Do you have alcohol-use disorder? Give me a buzz’,” Mellick says. Instead, he’s posted fliers around campus and at MUSC’s Wellness Center encouraging people who drink alcohol to call him for more information.

As he explains to prospective subjects, his process entails a full clinical assessment, during which he makes sure the person’s account of drinking habits lines up with the story told by his or her organs. “We do an in-depth job before we put them in the scanner,” he says.

Participation in the study is confidential and compensated. For more information, call 843-792-7667 or e-mail mellick@musc.edu.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

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Eating all of the chicken livers just as fast as I can.