How does drinking affect our neurotransmitters? Having an alcoholic drink releases an artificial level of dopamine in the brain. Along with other effects of alcohol, this is that nice buzz or relaxed feeling we have for the first twenty minutes of a drink. Dopamine stimulates motivation, rewards and happiness. Then the high comes down to a low, leaving many people feeling uncomfortable, anxious, and worse off than before the first drink. At this time, most people reach for another drink.
Our brain naturally releases dopamine too, like when we play with a child, eat an ice cream, or walk in the woods. But this level is never as high as the artificial release from alcohol. What does this do? Our brains have a new threshold for happiness and unless alcohol is involved, activities that are supposed to make us happy don’t anymore. We become neurologically unable to experience life’s pleasures. Our brains become numbed to the release of dopamine. Regularly drinking literally numbs us to the joys of life, not just when we are drinking, but all the time. Drinking also lowers our levels of serotonin, which stimulates happiness and calm.
Not drinking will likely bring a surge of positive feelings and joy. I first experienced this by being enthralled by clouds and trees, belting songs out in my car, and having dance parties with my dog. I felt so giddy, like I was falling in love.
Alcohol is a depressant, but to achieve homeostasis our body releases stimulants and stress hormones to combat the alcohol. The depressant nature of alcohol wears off, but the stress hormones stay for much longer. This explains why we can feel so weird hours later after having a few drinks in the middle of the day or why we are so anxious and fraught the next day after drinking. I flooded my brain with stress hormones every weekend. It took me days to feel normal and upbeat again.
Not drinking will stop the flood of neurochemicals that make us feel horrible.