Alcohol, Happiness, and the Hedonic Setpoint

dopamine happiness and alcohol hedonic dysfunction hedonic setpoint Sep 26, 2023

Have you ever noticed that alcohol seems to be present at almost every event and social gathering you attend?

Do you find yourself looking forward to having a drink as soon as you arrive, believing that everything is better with alcohol? If so, you may be experiencing something called Hedonic Dysfunction.

We all have a natural level of happiness called the hedonic setpoint, and it's different for everyone. In this blog, we'll explore the relationship between alcohol, happiness, and the hedonic setpoint. Alcohol interferes with our set point by flooding the pleasure centers of our brain with dopamine, a "feel-good" chemical, which is why drinking initially feels good. However, the dopamine caused by alcohol far exceeds the threshold of our hedonic setpoint, causing a temporary rise in happiness levels, followed by a crash. This is one reason why we can feel emotionally unbalanced the day after a night of drinking.

This decrease in happiness is also gradual and longer-lasting, as our hedonic setpoint literally changes. Eventually everyday activities that used to bring us joy seemed to have lost their appeal.

For example, let's say we enjoy walking outside. Whenever we go for a walk, our brain releases enough dopamine to hit our hedonic setpoint, and we feel happy. But if we begin drinking on a regular basis, our hedonic setpoint creeps up. Now, we need to drink more and more to achieve the same amount of happiness which is called tolerance. ( a topic for another day)

Eventually, alcohol becomes a requirement for happiness & everyday activities don’t seem as fun as they once used to.

The good news is that none of these brain changes are permanent! If we quit drinking alcohol, our brains can naturally heal themselves. Our hedonic setpoint will slowly lower over time.

In the coming blogs, we'll discuss ways we can use our brain's ability to change to make ourselves happier in the long run.

Stay tuned for more information on how to boost your happiness without relying on alcohol. Please let me know if you’ve had this experience.

To your health,