Alcohol, Dopamine, And The Impact On The Alcoholic Brain

Beating alcoholism can be an extremely difficult task without help. Many people who have drinking problems believe that they can stop drinking whenever they like, but in reality, trying to quit is extremely hard, and going cold turkey can have severe consequences. A big part of why this happens is because of dopamine. Alcohol modifies the way that your brain produces and uses dopamine. But what exactly is dopamine and how is it tied to alcohol?

What Is Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that your body naturally produces. Neurotransmitters are chemical signals that can trigger parts of your body to respond in certain ways. Your body and brain are regularly producing all kinds of hormones, neurotransmitters, and other chemicals that are used to help keep your body functioning as it should, but that also means that interfering with their production can have negative consequences.

Why Dopamine Is Important

All neurotransmitters are important, but dopamine is one of the ones that humans feel the most direct influence from, even if they don't realize it. Outside of helping your body to function properly, dopamine is also a reward neurotransmitter that's produced when something good or pleasurable happens. For example, eating a good meal, having intercourse, or accomplishing a goal can all lead to a release of dopamine.

The reason you feel good when you produce dopamine is that the brain uses it as a way of reinforcing behavior. It's sort of like your own internal system giving you a reward for completing a task that it wants you to do again. This helps to solidify behaviors necessary to your survival, like eating.

However, there's a difference between the amount of dopamine produced when you complete a task and the amount produced when you have a drink. 

How Does Alcohol Impact Dopamine

Drinking alcohol for the first time — or the first time in a while — produces a huge surge of dopamine. This leads people to feel relaxed, comfortable, and happy after the alcohol is consumed. However, each subsequent drink will produce less dopamine. This means that your brain will crave that same 'high' that the dopamine produced but won't be able to acquire it as easily. As a result, you drink more and more in order to get the same feeling.

Unfortunately, when you try to quit, your brain and body won't react well to its dopamine supply being cut suddenly. Craving it is one thing, but when you cut alcohol entirely after having a regular drinking habit, the brain and body have difficulty coping with the reduced level of dopamine. This can lead to problems like nausea, vomiting, depression, and even hallucinations in severe cases.

Missing out on the dopamine high is hard enough for people to cope with, but when the body starts revolting and makes one feel sick, all people want to do is drink again to make the symptoms subside. However, this just restarts the cycle. These combined difficulties are what makes it so important to seek outside help to break your habit.

With alcoholic recovery care, you can take a lot of the guesswork and stress out of trying to cut back on your drinking. They can aid you in slowly cutting down, or if need be, providing medication to aid you with the withdrawal symptoms. No matter how you developed your alcoholic habit, it's a good idea to have someone guide you to quit it for good.

Contact an alcohol addiction rehab center for more information.