Alcohol Consumption and Endorphins

Alcohol Consumption and EndorphinsEndorphins reward alcohol consumption and encourage dopamine production in the brain’s reward pathway. This pleasurable feeling may lead to alcohol abuse in some individuals who are more susceptible to the effects.

How Endorphins Work in the Brain

Endorphins are naturally produced in the human body in response to pain or stress, or when eating certain foods. Emotional or physical pain may cause endorphins to be produced. High amounts of endorphins may be released due to strenuous exercise, sex, or physical danger, and in some cases may cause feelings of euphoria. Endorphins bind to opioid receptors in the brain, preventing feelings of pain and causing feelings of pleasure.

How Endorphins Motivate Behavior

The reward pathway in the brain motivates life-sustaining activities such as food, sleep, and sex. The pleasurable feelings caused by these activities motivate people’s behavior. Dopamine is released before and during pleasurable activities, causing the reward pathway to motivate a repeat experience. When endorphins are released, they may stimulate the production of dopamine, which in turn further motivates behavior. These two neurotransmitters may create a cycle of behavior motivated by dopamine and endorphins.

How Alcohol Consumption Affects Endorphins

When alcohol is consumed, endorphins are released in the brain. Endorphins produced by alcohol attach to opioid receptors in the brain, blocking feelings of discomfort and pain and increasing feelings of pleasure. Endorphins may attach to any opioid receptors in the brain, but endorphins produced by alcohol may have a tendency to attach specifically to mu receptors. Mu receptors are a type of opioid receptor that may control physical dependence, increasing the addictive potential of alcohol.

Individuals with a higher density of mu receptors may experience a greater pleasurable effect from alcohol consumption, and, as a result, may be more prone to alcohol addiction. A higher density of mu opioid receptors may be inherited from family members who may have developed addictions. Experiences during childhood may also affect opioid receptors in the developing brain. Trauma or neglect at a young age may influence brain development and lead to a deficit in dopamine production, causing an individual to crave the endorphin rush from alcohol as an adult.

Why Alcohol Is a Depressant

It may seem odd that a drug that boosts endorphins can also act as a depressant. Individuals may experience the pleasurable effect of endorphins and dopamine when consuming alcohol, but high amounts of alcohol may have the reverse effect. Because alcohol increases the rate of dopamine absorption in the brain, when an individual stops consuming alcohol, the brain quickly absorbs the extra dopamine produced, but is left with a high rate of absorption and no more dopamine. This can lead to anxiety, depression, and withdrawal. For individuals with an already high density of opioid receptors, it may lead to alcohol abuse and addiction.

Find Treatment for Alcohol Abuse

If you are abusing alcohol and worried about addiction, call us now. Our addiction counselors can answer your questions about alcoholism and help you find the treatment you need to get sober. Call now, our toll-free helpline is available 24 hours a day.