Alcohol and Dopamine: How Does it Work?

The brain is a truly remarkable organ. Yet along with helping us to think, function, and feel it can also play games with us in the form of anxiety. Having said that, some lifestyle choices don’t help. Instead, they make it worse. Alcohol wreaks all kinds of havoc on our bodies both inside and out—and that’s before the withdrawal symptoms following addiction set in. But what does it really do to our heads? Here, we are taking a closer look at alcohol and dopamine and how it actually works.

What Is Dopamine?

OK, so the most commonly known fact about alcohol is that it is a depressant but, of course, that’s not all it is. If it were only a depressant then quite frankly hardly anyone would drink it. There would be no benefit in it, right? If alcohol were solely a depressant, then a night out on the town would be a room full of people crying into their beers while “Hello Darkness My Old Friend” (The Sound of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel) blasts through the sound system. What most of us identify alcohol with is the effect it has by completely stealing a person’s power of movement and communication and replacing it with the same control, speech, and ability as a toddler—temporarily, of course. Aside from the odd one or two drunks who like to get aggressive and try and prove to the world what they are made of, most people become stupidly happy when they drink alcohol. So much so that many of us have been in fits of laughter just from watching the insane number of memes and videos that have been created purely from drunken mishaps. The reason behind this is the elevated levels of dopamine caused by alcohol. Dopamine is what leads—or rather misleads—us to believe that absolutely everything is great, that we are invincible, and, most importantly, that we are happy. Not suggesting that everyone that drinks alcohol isn’t happy just that if you aren’t alcohol may trick you into thinking you are, but only for a short time.

Hacking the Reward Center

So, in our brains, there is an area that referred to as the reward center. It is here that the dopamine travels to and surprise, surprise, it gives us a rewarding feeling. Essentially, what alcohol is doing is increasing dopamine levels which then hacks the brain reward center into providing us with these awesome feelings. This is the stimulant effect that alcohol has. However, it is not as rosy as it seems. While the alcohol is baiting the rising dopamine levels into dishing out those rewarding vibes, it is also beginning to gather and communicate with other chemicals that are responsible for feelings of depression. So, basically, alcohol is a trickster, a backstabber; it gives you a false sense of happiness and joy and then, bang, depression hits.

CBD and Dopamine

CBD is a cannabinoid compound that is derived from the strain of cannabis plant known as hemp. It comes in several forms including as an oil, spray, vape liquid, and gummies. There is still a lot more research that is needed for CBD and cannabis, but this natural plant-based bottle of magic has been known to work wonders on the body. Without getting too deep into the scientific goings-on of CBD effects on different neurotransmitters, we are going to break down how CBD has been known to affect dopamine. So, first things first, the brain has a crazy number of receptors. Dopamine, along with serotonin, is considered neurotransmitters because they signal and communicate with certain brain receptors. Not all neurotransmitters can interact with all brain receptors. It is kind of like how the phone charger for a Samsung phone doesn’t fit iPhones. In this analogy, the iPhone and the Samsung phone are brain receptors, and the phone chargers are the neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters (phone chargers in this case) can only tell the brain receptors (iPhone or Samsung) what to do if they fit together or connect properly. Sometimes, you can find chargers that fit these phones that aren’t made by the brand Samsung or Apple. In the case of brain receptors, some of them can pick up information from outside sources like CBD. The thing to know about the effects of CBD on dopamine levels is that it doesn’t actually communicate with it directly. What it does, is it interacts with it indirectly.   Because of this secondary level of communication between CBD and receptors, it also explains why, unlike cannabis, CBD doesn’t get you high—well, in part anyway. THC, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. This is the element of the cannabis plant that does get you high and part of the reason why is because it does directly communicate with the receptors.

Serotonin and CBD

Another incredibly important receptor in the brain is that of serotonin. This particular receptor is what can help with anxiety, depression, nausea, and opioid dependence when it is boosted. Again, there is a lot more research that needs to be done, but so far, the effects of CBD, with regards to combating depression and anxiety, has been very positive and is what a majority of people that buy CBD products actually use them for.

We are reliant on dopamine due to its abilities to regulate our emotions. When alcohol slips past our lips one too many times, our dopamine levels bounce all over the place. The complexity surrounding the effects of CBD on a neurological level is one of the primary reasons behind the extensive amount of research and studies that are needed. Yet it is also extremely positive as the sheer extent of the elaborate movements, signals, and involvement of CBD once in the system suggests that there are many more benefits that this compound possesses. Already, we understand that CBD oil products help alleviate chronic pain, Alzheimer’s disease, Dravet syndrome, and almost every anxiety disorder. In the near future, we hope to be able to share even more details and facts about CBD and how it can positively impact people’s lives for the better.

This article by Madeleine Taylor is originally published at SundayScaries.