Alcohol is a well-known depressant of the brain.
Scientists have found that alcohol can stimulate the reward centre of the brain in alcoholics. That is why they keep on consuming alcohol.
We sit back and say to ourselves – “problem solved”. The neurobiology of alcohol has been explained.
Alas, and in a way ‘thank goodness’, we took another look at the “revelation”.
Myths about the brain’s reward center
Here we go: the Reward centre is a cluster of cells buried deep in the brain. When a chemical called Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps brain cells to communicate with each other, is released in high concentration in this area, this centre is said to be stimulated.
Once the Reward centre is stimulated the person feels good and tends to repeat whatever activity that led to the release of dopamine in the Reward centre.
When Dopamine goes away the reward centre loses its stimulation.
- Then what happens is that the person usually feels bad and may go looking for whatever that can give another Dopamine rush.
- Now this nicely explains why people feel good after consuming alcohol and why they continue using alcohol.
- That is why they feel bad when they don’t have alcohol.
- That is why they start looking for alcohol.
But there’s evidence that we have overlooked. Evidence that tells a different story. It’s a small but important fact:
- When a child or a person who is not an ‘alcoholic’ takes alcohol, what happens to the Reward centre? Nothing happens, according to available scientific evidence.
- That’s why children hate alcohol.
- That is why most people felt awful when they first tasted alcohol.
The conclusion is that alcohol is not a natural trigger of dopamine release in the reward centre in the human brain.
There ARE natural triggers of Dopamine release in the Reward centre. For example, food and/or sex are natural triggers, you will find.
Do you know that ‘triggers’ that never enter the blood or brain can cause a Dopamine release in the brain?
For example money can do that in adults. Not in children. Just seeing a stack of cash may cause your Reward centre to have a lot of Dopamine. Interesting facts, don’t you think?
Natural and learnt triggers
Now, we know that there are natural triggers that stimulate the Reward centre. And, there are ‘learnt’ triggers that stimulate the Reward centre.
- Sex is a natural trigger of Reward centre stimulation.
- Money is a learnt trigger of Dopamine release in the Reward centre.
When cash is associated with some natural triggers such as food or sex repeatedly, the brain learns to have Dopamine released in the Reward centre.
Ultimately, cash can actually make the Dopamine be released. CASH becomes a learnt trigger.
So, the interesting question is: What sort of a trigger is alcohol? And I’m sure you can figure this out for yourself now.
Alcohol becoming a learnt trigger of Dopamine release for alcoholics is an interesting topic to explore and we all need to study and understand this better.