The Connection Between Alcohol and Dopamine


Several studies have shown that changes in the DA system in the CNS can influence drinking behaviors both in animals and in humans. Early animal models have shown that injection of the neurotoxin 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) in the ventricle or in other brain regions destroys dopaminergic neurons. Serotonin is an important brain chemical that acts as a neurotransmitter to communicate information among nerve cells. Serotonin’s actions have been linked to alcohol’s effects on the brain and to alcohol abuse. Alcoholics and experimental animals that consume large quantities of alcohol show evidence of differences in brain serotonin levels compared with nonalcoholics.

  • The dopaminergic neurons in the VTA are connected to the brain areas thought to mediate rewarding effects.
  • Brain phenotypes of FASD have consistently been recapitulated in animal models and highlight the modulating role of timing and alcohol exposure [60].
  • In addition, those individuals may be predisposed to drink more heavily and develop an alcohol addiction.
  • Endorphin release in the NAc and OFC was measured in light versus heavy drinkers through displacement of [11C]Carfentanil following acute alcohol consumption of an alcoholic drink.
  • Many medical practitioners recommend a ninety-day time frame for dopamine recovery.
  • An analysis of 281 studies in 36 countries by scientists from the US, Spain and Brazil, published in the BMJ, found that 14% of adults and 12% of children have a food addiction, and the food they are addicted to is ultra-processed.

The upside of sensation seeking is that people see potential stressors as challenges to be overcome rather than threats that might crush them. During acute and protracted withdrawal, a profound negative emotional state evolves, termed hyperkatifeia (hyper-kuh-TEE-fee-uh). These brain changes related to excessive alcohol use underlie many AUD symptoms. As previously mentioned, thiamine is an essential cofactor required for the synthesis and function of several essential enzymes.

How You Might Feel With High Dopamine Levels

The gene encoding GABRA1 is located on chromosome 5 at 5q34-35 while the gene encoding GABRA6 is located on the same chromosome at 5q34. According to a study by,[62] a significant correlation was found with the GABRA1 genotype and Collaborative Study of the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA) AD, history of blackouts, age at first drunkenness as well as the level of response to alcohol. The study concludes by stating that the efforts to characterize genetic contributions to AD may benefit by examining alcohol-related behaviors in addition to clinical AD. Another study by[55] aimed to look at the availability of the SERT in patients with AD.

Most people I talk to about alcoholism and what causes it have no idea that it is a brain chemistry problem and genetic. It’s a complicated organ with billions of neurons shooting messages to each other to sustain critical life functions, coordinate muscular action, and learn new skills. You can seek help from friends in recovery, and experienced clinicians like Michaela Weaver can help you avoid typical relapse “triggers” to reduce their impact on the brain. Several potential ways that the brain has adjusted back to a “baseline” level during and after addiction treatment have been investigated by researchers.


However, it has been noted there are differences in brain structure that predate alcohol initiation and may predispose individuals to heavy alcohol use. Structural precursors have mostly been found in the prefrontal cortex and fronto-limbic white matter and show considerable overlap with structural differences found in individuals with a family history of alcohol dependence [54]. Nevertheless, there are studies that have alcohol and dopamine suggested differences are not solely attributable to familial risk [55,56], and more research is needed to better understand these risk factors. Dopamine is a neuromodulator that is used by neurons in several brain regions involved in motivation and reinforcement, most importantly the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Dopamine alters the sensitivity of its target neurons to other neurotransmitters, particularly glutamate.

About Me

Heather DeSantis is the CEO and Founder of Publicity For Good (PFG), Forbes 30 Under 30 nominee, PRNEWS Top Women in PR 2021 Entrepreneurs Award, Platinum PR Awards CEO Finalist 2021 and Ragan’s PR Daily Award – PR Leader of the Year for 2021 and has been working with CPG clients for nearly a decade.

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