Alcohol Consumption and Endorphins

The positive feelings that many drinkers feel after consuming alcohol may be due to the brain releasing endorphins, which are are small proteins with opiate-like effects that are produced naturally in the brain. Dr. Jennifer Mitchell PhD, a clinical project director at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center and an adjunct assistant professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, was the lead director of one study that found that drinking alcohol leads to the release of endorphins in areas of the brain that produce feelings of pleasure and reward.

In the study, which was published in the January 11, 2012 edition of Science Translational Medicine, researchers used positron emission tomography (PET) imaging to observe the immediate effects of alcohol in the brains of 13 heavy drinkers and 12 matched control subjects who were not heavy drinkers. This study was the first time that endorphin release in response to alcohol consumption was directly observed in humans.

In all of the subjects, alcohol intake led to a release of endorphins. Also, when more endorphins were released in a particular part of the brain, that led to greater feelings of pleasure reported by each drinker. However, the difference between heavy drinkers and the control subjects indicates that the brains of heavy drinkers are altered in a way that makes them more likely to find alcohol consumption pleasant.

Alcohol Addiction Medications

Due to the PET imaging, researchers were able to target exactly which opioid receptors in the brain the endorphins attach to following alcohol consumption. With that understanding,  the doctors involved are hopeful that the medications that are used to treat alcohol dependence can be improved by targeting those specific receptors for treatment.

Other Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol’s effects on the brain include the following:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Blurred vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Slowed reaction times
  • Impaired memory

Some of these impairments can occur after only one or two drinks and may quickly resolve when drinking stops.

Finding Help for Alcoholism

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse, you should seek advice and information about detox and rehabilitation services. While recovery from alcoholism can be challenging, we can help. Please call our toll-free helpline today. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions you might have about alcohol addiction rehabilitation. We are here to help.