Alcohol and Dopamine: How One Drink Can Change The Most Complex System In The Human Body
Alcohol is one of the most widely used, and most potent, psychoactive substances in the world, but its effects are still highly underestimated. Changes in brain chemistry happen the moment a person takes his or her first sip of alcohol, and these changes are happening in large part to a chemical called dopamine. Do these alterations always lead to an alcohol use disorder (AUD)? No. How alcohol affects an individual’s brain is based on several factors, including:
- how much, how often a person drinks
- the person’s age, level of education, gender, genetic background, and family history of alcoholism
- the age at which someone began drinking
- whether he or she is at risk as a result of prenatal alcohol exposure
- his or her general health status (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
However, what research does suggest is that dopamine and the immediate changes that occur in the brain while drinking can lead to an increased risk of an alcohol use disorder in some people.
Whenever we perform activities like eating chocolate or having sex, healthy amounts of a neurotransmitter called dopamine are released into the brain. Drugs and alcohol produce the same release of the chemical but in much higher doses. According to a study in the National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, “dopamine is the target of psychoactive substances, including alcohol, cocaine, amphetamine, and opioids. Once the brain senses a particular substance giving it pleasure; it will rewire the brain chemistry in a way which makes the person want to have more of that substance to get the same high.” So why are some people more susceptible to this dopamine release when it comes to alcohol consumption, and how does this susceptibility turn into an AUD?
Researchers believe some individuals are actually more sensitive to dopamine than others, which partially explains why some people are more susceptible to alcohol or drug use disorders. A recent study published in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging used PET brain scanning to measure the amount of dopamine release in areas of the brain important for reward and addiction. The study showed, “people with a family history of an AUD released more dopamine in expectation of alcohol and could be at a greater risk in developing an alcohol use disorder.” In addition, those individuals who have a higher release of and response to dopamine may also be predisposed to drink more heavily, leading to an AUD.
However, as stated earlier, how alcohol affects an individual’s brain is based on several factors, including genetics. But the study is a promising advancement in how using PET scanning can provide new information into how differences in brain chemistry in people with a family history of AUD can explain their potential for addiction.
Alcohol Use Disorders, Addiction and Treatment
Just as an addiction to alcohol produces unhealthy chemical changes in the brain, the brain is an amazing, resilient organ that can be re-wired and heal. If you or someone you know is showing signs of an alcohol use disorder, the best way to help is professional treatment through a trusted inpatient alcohol rehab center. Make the decision to free yourself from the harmful effects of alcohol addiction and contact Daylight Recovery Services today at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT. While there is no cure for addiction, treatment is available, and there is hope in recovery.