Alcohol and DopamineSep 26, 2023
Have you ever felt like cutting down on alcohol was an impossible task? I used to feel that way too. But instead of wondering if you have a problem with alcohol, it's more helpful to ask yourself, "Would my life be better without alcohol?" or "What can I do to take control of my drinking habits?" Let's explore the relationship between alcohol and dopamine, and how this impacts our ability to change.
It can be frustrating to want to make a change, but still feel pulled back to old habits. The reason why we struggle to drink less lies in our brain's pleasure circuit. The prefrontal cortex, nucleus accumbens, and ventral tegmental area (VTA) work together to give us that happy feeling after the first drink.
When we drink, the VTA releases dopamine, a chemical that makes us feel good, but our body quickly counteracts this with dynorphin, which protects us from the over-stimulation of being flooded with too much dopamine. This cycle continues, with the alcohol bringing us back up, but not as high as we were before. With each drink, the brain then releases even more dynorphin to bring us back down, leading to even lower levels of happiness than our initial baseline before the first drink. (see chart)
The long-term effects of this pattern can include tolerance, where our brain releases more dynorphin in response to habitual drinking, making it harder to feel the first release of endorphins. We are always chasing the initial euphoria of the first drink, but we will not be able to recapture that due to the release of dynorphin.
However, the more we understand about alcohol and its impact on our brain, the more we can make informed decisions for a healthier, happier life. By taking control of our drinking habits, we can put ourselves back in the driver's seat when it comes to alcohol and our future health.
If you're struggling to take control of your drinking habits, I am here to help. I offer a free discovery call to discuss your personal situation and how I can support you on your journey to a healthier relationship with alcohol. Don't let alcohol control your life any longer – take the first step towards taking control today.
To your health,