THIQ = Tetrahydroisoquinoline

For many years, the medical community has been doing expansive research on the biological complexities of the Alcoholic. But, perhaps, one of the most intriguing discoveries was made quite by accident.

It all started down in Houston, Texas with a medical scientist named Virginia Davis who was busy doing cancer research. For her studies, Virginia needed access to fresh human brains, which, as we know, are not readily available. Virginia would ride along with the Houston police on their early morning rounds as they patrolled skid row, collecting the bodies of the street alcoholics who died overnight. After taking the temperatures of the bodies, Virginia would rush the warm ones back to the hospital where she could remove their brains for her cancer research.

One day, Virginia was in the hospital cafeteria talking to her colleagues. She began telling them about some of the findings of her laboratory studies, and she said: "You know I never realized that all those winos used heroin as well as booze." These were seasoned emergency room doctors; they just laughed at her. "Come on Virginia," they told her. "These guys don't use heroin. They can barely afford a bottle of cheap muscatel."

Virginia knew she was onto something. She had discovered in the brains of those chronic alcoholics a substance that is very closely related to heroin. This substance is called, Tetrahydroisoquinoline or THIQ for short. When a person uses heroin, the heroin breaks down in the system and one of the by-products is THIQ. Virginia's mystery was; how did this THIQ get into the brains of these hardcore alcoholics?

To better understand all of this, we will need a small lesson in biochemistry. When the normal adult drinker takes in alcohol it's processed at about one drink per hour. The body first converts the alcohol into something called acetaldehyde (a very toxic substance that if accumulated would make one very sick or could be fatal). The body is designed, via biological processes, to quickly rid itself of this toxic acetaldehyde. It is changed into acetic acid (vinegar), and then into carbon dioxide and water, which is dispelled through the kidneys and lungs. That's what happens in a "normal" drinker. It also happens with the alcoholic drinker, but there is a "P.S.".

As was discovered by Virginia Davis, in the alcoholic, a very small amount of acetaldehyde is not eliminated. Instead, it goes to the brain where, through a very complex biochemical process, it is transformed into THIQ. Here is a little information about THIQ.

First, THIQ is created in the brain, and it only occurs in the brain of the alcoholic drinker; it does not and cannot happen in the brain of the social drinker. Second, THIQ has been found to be highly addictive. It was used experimentally with animals during WWII when doctors were looking for a pain killer less addictive than morphine. THIQ turned out to be an excellent pain killer but its addictive qualities far exceed that of morphine. The third fascinating item about THIQ also has to do with addiction. An experiment using alcohol averting rats and THIQ was conducted. These rats, when put into a cage with a very weak solution of vodka and water, will refuse to drink it to the point where they will thirst to death. Take the same rat and inject a minute quantity of THIQ into its brain and the animal will immediately develop an intense preference for alcohol over water. So, with one small injection of THIQ, the rat bred to refuse alcohol, had become an alcoholic rat.

Other studies have been done with monkeys, a very- close relative to humans in medical terms. What has been learned is that once THIQ is injected into. a. monkey's brain, it stays there. You can keep a THIQed monkey dry, off alcohol, for as long as seven years and when the monkey is sacrificed and his brain is examined, the THIQ is still there.

For a long time, specialists in the alcoholism field have suspected what these laboratory findings verified. Specialists have noticed, for- years, thar through the exploration of an alcoholic's family history, there is inevitably. evidence of alcoholism within said family. In virtually all cases of alcoholism, there -is a family predisposition - an abnormality in the body chemistry - toward the manufacturing of THIQ.

We know alcoholics don't intend to make THIQ when they start. drinking and become addicted to alcohol. They don't mean for their brains to manufacture something stronger than morphine. They've been warned about the evils of narcotics but they've heard a great deal less about the power and potential of alcohol. Most people take a drink now and then and according to a study done by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 92% of high school seniors have had experiences with alcohol & 67% are current users (1987). Within our society alcohol consumption is not just accepted behavior, it is expected.

Unfortunately, the alcoholics-to-be aren't equipped to process alcohol in the normal way. They are unaware of their predisposition toward the THIQ production their brain's chemistry has inherited. Most people didn't know anything about this condition until fairly recently. So the alcoholics-to-be innocently start drinking moderately in the beginning, maybe a few drinks on the weekends. As their drinking progresses, they might get seriously drunk two or three times a year. No real life problems seem to have developed. During all these drinking episodes, the brain is busy making a little cache of THIQ. At some point, maybe sooner or later, the alcoholic will cross over that shadowy line into a whole new alcoholic way of life.

Medical science still cannot predict with accuracy how much THIQ an individual brain will stockpile before the "big event" happens. Some people cross the line in their teens, others, in their 30's, 40's, 50's or later. But once it happens, the alcoholic will be as hooked on alcohol as he would have been hooked on heroin if he'd been shooting that up instead for very similar chemical reasons.

As dismal as this picture may appear, there is good news. Alcoholism is a disease and is arrestable and highly treatable. Alcoholism is not the alcoholics fault nor his choice. Today alcoholics can get proper treatment for their disease, and that treatment begins when the alcoholic patient begins to get the facts on their disease.

These facts, when properly presented, can begin to alleviate some of the massive guilt that consumes the alcoholic. Treatment can begin to replace the guilt with a sense of the need for the alcoholic to become responsible for himself and accountable for his/her actions. Through quality treatment with knowledgable caring professionals, the alcoholic can put himself /herself on the path of recovery. With the help of others and a strong support system he/she can live a healthy fruitful life. That's the good news for all of us. For the alcoholics and their significant others, it's the best news they can ever wish for.


Andrew Eisenhauer -- (This article was based on the writings of Dr. David L. Ohlms from his book: "The Disease Concept of Alcoholism").