EP 22: Reader Question – Does Alcohol Make You Happy?

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People sure seem happy a few drinks in, yet we all know that alcohol is defined as a depressant? How can this be? Does alcohol really make you happy or is that just an illusion? What does the science say and more importantly why do we feel happy when we drink? Annie Grace answers.

The idea of alcohol can make you happy

The perceived happiness associated with drinking begins long before a drop of alcohol touches your lips. You believe it will make you happy and that idea alone – because our minds are so powerful – can have a big impact on your mood.  The idea of drinking, before you do creates a sense of expectation – for your mood to change, for release, for what ever you are dealing with to dissolve in the bottle.

Much like children build up happiness at the idea of a birthday party or trip to Disney World – we build up the anticipation for the release that is coming with alcohol.

What Happens When You Drink Alcohol

The primary physiological effect of alcohol is due to two neurotransmitters: Glutemate and Gaba.  Although they are different neuro transmitters – alcohol’s effect on each has similarities – to slow your brains function and activity. It makes it harder for your senses to communicate with your brain.  If you want to understand what a little alcohol does to your brain look at what a lot of alcohol does to your brain – disorientation, dizziness, lack of coordinator, slurred / slowing speak. And just back that up to the early stages. It’s your brain slowing down.  So, does alcohol make you happy?

Your brain slowing down can have the illusory effect of making you happy because if you are unhappy and suddenly your brain becomes foggy you can forget the source of your discontent.

The numbing effect of alcohol can take away things that are making you unhappy and trick you into feeling you are happy.

That’s in the short term.

What Happens In The Long Term?

Long term alcohol has a pretty terrifying effect on our happiness.

As Brene Brown says “There’s no such thing as selective emotional numbing. When we numb the dark, we numb the light.”

This is especially true with alcohol.  Our brains release a counter chemical – dynorphin. This counter chemical can become ever present when drinking – a constant downer. Alcohol counteracts the counter chemical bringing you back up – since dynorphin is present you are never back up to where you started – back up to baseline. However the downer symptoms of dynorphin are relieved and this masquerades as pleasure.

It Takes Time

Most terrifying is that alcohol takes a few days to leave the body. During this time dynorphin is constantly in your brain. So not only do you become numb to the effects of alcohol’s pleasure you become numb to every day pleasures .

At the late stages of alcohol dependence this is exactly what drinkers report – that nothing is very fun without drinking -nothing besides drinking gives them pleasure and eventually even the drinking ceases to provide any pleasure.

Again in severe addiction the liking and wanting of the substance are no longer linked, so you desperately crave something you don’t want.

The good news is that most of us haven’t hit that stage. We can become mindful in our relationship with alcohol now…

It's All An Illusion

Alcohol might give the illusion of happiness initially, Does alcohol make you happy though? True happiness is perhaps better described as peace and joy. It is lasting. The illusion of happiness that comes from a drink will over time steal your ability to experience lasting and true happiness with all the natural pleasures in your life.

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Special music thank you to the Kevin MacLeod Funkorama (incompetech.com)
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