If you drink too much alcohol for a long time, you can hardly get your butt off the sofa without a good swig. The reason: alcohol shatters the dopamine system. Dopamine is a brain messenger responsible for motivation, drive and reward. The vicious circle closes quickly: alcohol fires up the dopamine system vigorously, but only until its effect wears off. After that, the next inertia hole yawns.
Until now, research assumed that the body simply does not tolerate the constant artificial dopamine sprinkling and therefore regulates the system down itself.
American researchers have now uncovered a different mechanism. Alcohol causes a constant, slight inflammation in the body. In medicine, this is called “subacute” or “subclinical”. Meaning: you don’t feel this kind of inflammation, yet it’s there. The immune system races against the liquid enemy and activates its soldiers. The scientists at Atlanta University observed: These immune messengers signal the brain to shut down the dopamine system.
Developmentally, the whole thing makes perfect sense. The same immune messengers that alcohol sets in motion are on the way in the body after injury or illness. The dampened dopamine system keeps us nice and quiet until the body has had a chance to heal or get better. We simply lack the drive to do anything.
Alcohol causes this inflammation-immune reaction as a quasi permanent state. That is why the dopamine level drops to a constant minimum. The result: you feel unmotivated, listless, sometimes even irritable and somehow empty. It’s easy to reach for a glass as a quick “help” – so that you feel normal again, at least for a few hours.
By the way, such subacute inflammations are not only caused by alcohol abuse. Obesity or chronic stress, for example, are also triggers of such an unnoticed inflammatory reaction of the body. Thinking further: those who have such biochemical inflammatory stress lack dopamine – and they have an even higher risk of discovering the deceptively beneficial effect of alcohol for themselves.
Thinking even further: those who stop drinking alcohol would do well to cut off this silent inflammation as quickly as possible. Because the faster the dopamine system recovers. Nutrients in particular support this process – that’s what they are made for. Vitamins such as A, C, D, E or minerals such as calcium and magnesium or trace elements such as zinc and selenium are powerful anti-inflammatory agents. All the more reason to support quitting alcohol with nutrients.
Primary source: Can’t or Won’t? Immunometabolic Constraints on Dopaminergic Drive. Volume 23, ISSUE 5, P435-448, May 01, 2019, Cell / Trends in cognitive Science
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