Difficulty walking, blurred vision, slurred speech, slowed reaction times, impaired memory: Clearly, alcohol affects the brain. Some of these impairments can be detected after only one or two drinks and quickly resolve when drinking stops. On the other hand, a person who drinks heavily over a long period of time may have brain problems that persist well after he or she becomes sober. Exactly how alcohol affects the brain and the likelihood of reversing the impact of heavy drinking on the brain remain hot topics today.
Alcohol increases the release of dopamine in your brain’s “reward center.” The reward center is the same combination of brain areas that are affected by virtually all pleasurable activity, including everything from hanging out with friends, going on vacation, getting a big bonus at work, ingesting drugs, and drinking alcohol.
By jacking up dopamine levels in your brain, alcohol tricks you into thinking that it’s actually making you feel great, or maybe just better, if you are drinking to get over something emotionally difficult. The effect is that you keep drinking to get more dopamine release, but at the same time you’re altering other brain chemicals that are enhancing feelings of depression.