Role of endorphins in triggering feelings of happiness and alcohol addiction

Happiness is one of the feelings for which people can go to any extent to experience it. Unlike heavy drinking, moderate drinking or social drinking is widely accepted as a medium to destress and break the ice with people. In fact, many scientists also suggest that drinking induces happiness by triggering feel-good chemicals in the brain; however, even they have not been aware of the exact reason for this until now.

Highlighting the pleasurable effects of alcohol, a study, conducted by the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Centre at the University of California, has for the first time found the proof to corroborate the fact. Even though it was known earlier too that people feel happy after drinking due to the endorphins released in their brain, the exact locations where these “pleasure chemicals” are released were not known to the researchers.

Unlike the earlier studies where scientists speculated the pleasurable effects of alcohol on the brain based on animal studies, the researchers from the University of California for the first time were able to determine the real effects on the human brain using the scanning technology. In fact, they were able to find the parts where endorphins are released that cause a feel-good factor among drinkers.

Endorphins play the role of make or break in drinkers

The researchers resorted to positron emission tomography (PET) imaging to find out the exact release centers of endorphins. They were able to “light up” the brain regions of the drinkers using a radioactively tagged carfentanil, a drug similar to opioids that binds to opioid receptor sites in the brain, where endorphins also bind.

In order to come out with accurate and consistent findings, carfentanil was injected before drinking to 13 heavy and 12 moderate drinkers. The scientists observed that endorphins were released due to drinking primarily in the two regions of the brain, which include nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal cortex.

Though endorphins were released in the brain of all drinkers, the researchers found that the increasing levels of endorphins in the nucleus accumbens provided greater pleasure compared to those released in the orbitofrontal cortex. In fact, the heavy drinkers started to feel more intoxicated due to the endorphins released in the orbitofrontal cortex.

Providing a clue to the problem of addiction, the researchers concluded that the brains of heavy or problem drinkers are altered specifically to make them more attracted toward alcohol. According to the research leader Jennifer Mitchell, “The greater feeling of reward might cause them to drink too much.”

Enhancement in medications and treatment now within reach

Interestingly, the researchers found that the endorphins released after drinking bind to a particular type of opioid receptor known as the mu receptor. By targeting this region can be a target using medications, one can effectively treat or prevent alcohol addiction. This can significantly improve the current medications used for the treatment of alcohol abuse.

Though naltrexone, one of the medicines used for the treatment of alcohol abuse, has been largely effective, it is full of problems. As the drug prevents causes mental disorders like depression among the users, it is not widely considered a good medication for alcohol dependence. Therefore, scientists are trying to understand the reason for the side effects.

Heavy drinking – A way to addiction

By enhancing the overall understanding pertaining to the role of endorphins in controlling drinking, it is possible to create more targeted therapies for substance addiction. According to the above study, while low to moderate drinking enables the release of feel-good chemicals, high doses may fail to release endorphins and may trigger anxiety and depression. One might enjoy drinking in the initial stages, but it often turns problematic once it turns into an addiction. The addiction comes at significant social, personal and professional costs.

If you or your loved one is addicted to alcohol, contact the Florida Alcohol Addiction Helpline for immediate assistance. You can chat online or call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-220-5381 to find the best alcohol treatment centers in Florida.