Can a Monkey Get Drunk?
What does a monkey eating a banana have to do with our ongoing struggles with addiction? Robert Dudley examines this question and more in his book The Drunken Monkey: why we drink and abuse alcohol, University of California Press, 2014.
Are you aware that in the United States, excessive consumption of alcohol is now associated with 88,000 deaths per year, and has been found to be a primary risk factor for cancers of the head, neck, liver, colon, rectum and breast (approximately 20,000 of cancer related deaths)! Not good statistics. When I think about the breakdown of the American family (whether children are involved or not) I immediately go to the emotional and physical turmoil arising from excessive drinking.
Pause and remember that we find it more difficult to make changes when excessive drinking is part of the scene.
It was this family-related turmoil that led Robert Dudley, a professor of Integrative Biology, to study addiction. Professor Dudley traces his passion to his father, who struggled with and died early from alcoholism. He wondered why anyone would engage in “such self-destructive and socially damaging behavior.” Fortunately for Professor Dudley, his father’s excessive drinking has NOT been repeated in his own life.
Pause and remember that empowerment means that the paths that were trod by our parents do not have to be our paths.
Professor Dudley’s moment came when he was traveling through the rain forest in Central America. He saw a monkey eating ripe fruit and wondered if our brains respond to alcohol because of our inherited attraction to sugar-rich fruits. This hypothesis is explored in the Drunken Monkey; specifically, how pathways in the brain once organized around nutrition now signal satisfaction and reward following excessive consumption of alcohol.
Despite observations of birds eating berries fermenting in the spring thaw and then flying into windows and buildings, alcohol intoxication in animals is rare. Behaviors that compromise survival and leave animals vulnerable to hunger, disease and predators diminish over time. Why then do these behaviors exist in us, and why is the risk increasing? Research involving addiction is expanding but the explorations of our evolutionary inheritance underlying this risking behavior has been limited. Professor Dudley calls for new research incorporating his evolutionary hypothesis! The Drunken Monkey, provides helpful insights into this long-standing problem, but concerns related to inefficacy of addiction treatment remain.
Fortunately, resources to help those who are struggling with addiction are growing. Twelve Step Programs have a long history and have helped many. New programs that are using evidenced based tools for addiction are also finding their way into the fold such as, Smart Recovery Self-Management and Recovery Training Program (both national as well groups in the Triangle), Harm Reduction, and Community Reinforcement and Family Training Program - CRAFT (please click on these programs for associated links). Regardless of the avenue of support the quest is to tap these resources and put into action new behaviors that increase the chance of a better life, and importantly, reverse the tide of deaths due to alcoholism each year.
Image: Young Rhesus Macaque eating banana, New Delhi, India; Donyanedomam | Dreamstime.com
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