How Your Brain Chemistry Craves Alcohol

During my years as a drinker, I was around many people who were slaves to liquor.  I don’t really know how many of them thought of themselves as having a problem.  But I do know that a lot of people emphasize the fun they’re having when drinking and their desire to drink.

brain chemistry

Heavy drinkers find millions of ways to joke about their drink, to half-heartedly mock themselves, etc.  But the truth it, they are powerfully driven to drink, and that’s a hard thing to admit.

Well, if you’ve ever wondered whether or not alcoholism is fueled by the effects of drink on the brain, wonder no more.  Scientists at Texas A&M University have found that D1 and D2 receptors in the brain, which soak up Dopamine, are responsible for getting people chemically addicted to alcohol.

As you may know, Dopamine is our main pleasure chemical in our brain.  When we are in the presence of a loved one, when we get a big compliment or good news, or when we eat junk food, this rascally chemical is activated. And, it’s very activated by drink.

To flesh this out a little more, the major problems happen in a part of the brain called the DMS, or dorsomedial striatum.  What happens is that alcohol essential makes neurons in this part of the brain more sensitive and excitable, and that only makes the urge for drink stronger.  Not good, right?

What this basically means is that more alcohol is an inevitable consequence of drinking, unless you counter your brain chemistry with immense self-control.  That’s why college kids and other partiers can’t wait until the next Friday night and the next keg party.  During the down time, they can remember the flood of pleasure chemicals from the last time they drank.  The desire for more makes drinking a pretty popular hobby, and in some cases it leads to full-blown alcoholism.

I had a friend and drinking buddy I’ll call Ramon.  Ramon had an interesting way of going about things, at least for a while when I knew him in the 80’s.  Ramon was a strange drinker—sporadic, you might say.  He had something he liked to do, which was to go down to the local batting cages, you know, where they shoot weird yellow baseballs and softballs at you and you hit them.  Then there are the go-karts and all that.

So, I would be at the bar, and if I didn’t see Ramon there, I knew it was his night for the batting cages, something he did completely sober.  Once, I went with him (I was actually very loaded, myself) and got to witness his batting first hand.  He wasn’t half-bad, but what was amazing was just how long the guy batted away at balls.  He actually had a coffee mug of quarters sitting back behind him and he kept plunking them into the coin slot and hitting away.  And after that, exhausted, he was pretty mellow.

When he’d come into bar, he was a different fellow altogether.  He always walked in scowling, always seeming very disturbed.  He’d have to get to his third drink, and then he’d start talking and seeming OK.

It was clear, then, that Ramon wanted to not drink.  He wanted to go to the batting cages, where there’d be no alcohol and, presumably, no alcoholics.  But on some nights he’d come to the bar, and those were the nights when he was very depressed.  His brain chemistry was crying out for help—medication, really.

But it’s, of course, a poison disguised as medication, one that causes problems of all kinds.

Photo by Neil Conway on Flickr