The dopamine lie

(poto credit

I’m sure you’ve heard the quote “One drink is too many and a thousand is never enough”

When I was drinking I never left a party early. I was always the last one at the bar, scared to miss out because I believed there was something wonderful and amazing around the corner, I just had no ‘off switch’.

I was listening to the willpower instinct written by Written by: Kelly McGonigal. In the book, he talks about dopamine and the role it plays in addiction.

Dopamine is the brain’s major reward neurotransmitter pathway. It’s basically the sex, drugs and rock and roll chemical of the brain.

In the past it has been thought of as the brains ‘reward chemical’ however new research has now proved that this isn’t completely accurate.

The firing of dopamine neurons occurs when a pleasurable activity is expected, regardless of whether pleasure actually happens or not.

Dopamine’s role in pleasure and reward is that it’s like a little red flag to your brain, saying “hey, pay attention, this is about to feel good, and you want to remember this so you can do it again.”

By jacking up dopamine levels in your brain, alcohol tricks you into thinking that it’s actually making you feel great (or maybe just better, if you are drinking to get over something emotionally difficult). The effect is that you keep drinking to get more dopamine release, but at the same time you’re altering other brain chemicals that are enhancing feelings of depression.

When you are stuck in this chemical loop there is no way out.  I just need to reiterate this, the dopamine doesn’t make you feel good it is telling your brain something great is on the way…this is why when you are drinking you never quite ‘get there’ This is why a thousand will never be enough!

This was a revelation to me in so many ways. It explained so much about why I had the compulsion to keep drinking.

A couple of videos by Annie Grace I’ve found that are related and that you may find interesting:

does alcohol make you happy?

Is drinking a habit?

High from drinking?

Have a lovely sober Sunday! xxx


18 thoughts on “The dopamine lie

  1. I remember reading this in the book, “Beyond the Influence “. Super hard book to read, but really good in terms of science and the brain.
    And it’s so true.
    I’d get so excited knowing I was going to happy hour and getting my wine.
    First sip was good, but not the same excitement.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That makes a lot of sense. Our brain responds to our thoughts. It is what Dr Joe Dispenza and others like him teach. That is why the placebo effect is so powerful. The worst thing about the anticipation of a dopamine high with alcohol is that the substance itself actually is a depressant so it is doomed to failure from the start. I wonder if I can get the same kind of dopamine high from thinking about drinking a green smoothie!! At least then I am rewarding my body with something healthy.

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  3. Without being a cop-out or excuse, I found a lot of satisfaction in my early Dry January days scouring the net and learning about the brain/chemical/addiction connections. For me, it eliminated the negative, fault-finding ‘what a bad person I am, why don’t I have more will power’ script in my head. It was still up to me to commit to serious change, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. oh, I love The Willpower Instinct!! it’s an absolutely life changing read, can’t recommend highly enough.

    similarly her book The Upside of Stress has the power to completely change how we feel about stress in our lives, so that’s a great read too. in fact think I need to go back and read that one again – like (as my daughter would say), every 20 minutes 😉

    good to hear from you and see how you are fighting the good fight and helping others to do so. keep banging the drum! xx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This reminds me of my experience the day of my last drink(s) the first time I quit alcohol. It was Christmas eve in 2014 and I’d been quitting for days or weeks at a time for maybe half a year. On that day I had gone out to a gigantic mall to buy something (very uncharacteristic of me because I hate hate hate malls — the noise, the off-gassing). Coming back home I had a freaking crazy craving for beer and became obsessed with finding out whether any liquor stores within driving distance were still open. I pulled over to the side of the road and frantically did map searches on my phone. When I figured out that one of the best closest ones was still open for another half hour and I could get there in time, my whole body relaxed. All of the stress and craving went away. I didn’t even need the beer to feel better (“better”), just the knowledge that it was in my future. I did go get the beer anyway. But that was my last drink for a glorious four or five months (now, two years later I’m past six months on try II). I need to learn more about dopamine. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I know the feeling. I just can’t stop. But now that I’m sober, I see around me that a lot of people can’t stop. I get offered water every time they order a new round and I must say I get home very hydrated and am up all night from going to the bathroom lol + hardly any cellulite. My husband knows how to stop after a few. I just can’t, the button in my head turns on and it can’t be switched off.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That is fascinating. I knew that I was dopamine-deprived, like my mother is, but thought that alcohol ‘cured’ that. It did feel that way, temporarily. So should we be able to put ourselves in this state without drinking? Just wondering … it seems like yoga might have a similar effect.

    Liked by 1 person

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