EP 62: Reader Question – What is the science behind why I feel like I want to drink so badly?

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When we have made a conscious decision to no longer drink, what is the scientific reason for why we find ourselves desperately wanting a drink? Annie provides us with some great research on what is happening in our brain when we drink and why we feel the need to keep drinking even when we really don’t want to.

Why Do We Want To Drink?

Today’s question has someone who every single day has this incredible resolve not to drink. Then by the end of the day, it’s almost overwhelming, this desire that drinking is going to make her happy and feel better. Despite all her conscious intentions, she just cannot understand why she finds herself drinking every single night and why she just so desperately wants to be drinking every single night, and why it feels just like such depravation and heartbreak not to be drinking. She asked recently, she said, “Can somebody please give me the concise, scientific reason that this is happening in my brain, that despite my best efforts and intentions I just cannot put down the drink at the end of the night, and I can only go a few days at a time?” Why do we want to drink?


When wondering why do we want to drink it often just comes down to chemistry. We generally know about dopamine because we think things like exercise release dopamine, things like pleasure releases dopamine, and so for a long time scientists actually thought that dopamine was the chemical that made you like something and enjoy something. Recent studies have shown that dopamine is the chemical that motivates us and has us seek things, but isn’t necessarily tied up with actually enjoying things. There’s a big difference between wanting something and actually enjoying something. Your desire and when you were first drinking, you probably had a glass of wine, and you wanted it. You desired it, and then certain things happen when you drink a glass of wine that we’ll get into, and they release certain chemicals in your brain, and so you enjoyed it too, so wanting and liking were together.

But I don't like it

What happens over years and years of drinking is that wanting and liking actually become separated. You can really want something you don’t even like. I remember this was true in my drinking days. I desperately wanted a drink at the end of the day. It felt like I would be just miserable if I didn’t have a drink, and it was the key to my happiness, but I didn’t even like it even after the first drink or two. I remember doing voice memos to myself, or taking videos of myself, or journaling and being like, “Uh, like I don’t even like it anymore,” so I couldn’t understand what was happening.


If you think of dopamine, dopamine evolved to help us survive. If you think of cavemen, for instance, cavemen were going along and say they were trying to find a spring, so they were trying to find some water source. They’re walking through the woods or something and they found water. What happened was there was a huge rush of dopamine. The interesting thing about this is that it imprints what’s happened just before that discovery and just after so that it will happen again. So it’s this cycle where we want to drink even though we no longer enjoy it.

Keep Listening

Listen to the complete podcast for the other two reason we want to drink even when we don’t enjoy it and the science behind that reasoning.

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