In the United States, alcoholism is the third cause of preventable death which is accountable for nearly 88,000 deaths per year.
Yet, a lot of the time, we’re blindsided by people’s alcohol intake because it’s such a socially acceptable activity.
Just like taking medication, doing exercise and eating create chemical reactions in the brain, so does alcohol and the lack thereof.
Scientists underwent research to find out why it’s so hard for an alcoholic to turn down a drink.
They examined the brains of alcoholics once deceased and found that, once an alcoholic stops drinking, their brain’s ability to use dopamine (chemical that makes you feel happy), changes.
When someone has a drink, dopamine is released and the reward system is activated. Scientists have found that, the ability to produce dopamine is significantly lower in alcoholics, thus the need for them to drink more and more to feel a ‘buzz’.
It was also found that alcoholics had fewer dopamine receptors, called D1 receptors, than non-alcoholics. This inhibits the brains ability to respond to dopamine.
Alcoholic brains also contained fewer dopamine transporter sites – which basically sucks up unused dopamine and recycles it for future use. Thus, making it more difficult to produce and use dopamine.
To further justify their study, they looked at the affects of withholding alcohol in alcohol-dependent rats.
After six days, the level of dopamine had dropped confirming their theory of the deceased brains. Interestingly, though, after three weeks, the level of dopamine had increased yet unable to bind to receptor sites but rather, remain unused in the spaces between neurons, called synapsis.
To conclude the study, scientists were able to claim that those who are suffering from acute alcohol withdrawal are associated with a hypodopaminergic state (small amounts of dopamine) whereas, prolonged alcohol withdrawal was associated with a hyperdopaminergic state (large amounts of dopamine).
Both of these states are associated with a dysfunctional reward system, however, and for that reason, increase a person’s vulnerability to relapse.