How does alcohol affect serotonin, dopamine and GABA?

Alcohol has a significant impact on numerous bodily functions. Among other things, under the influence of alcohol there are disturbances in the transmission of signals between nerve cells, for which the so-called neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin or GABA are responsible. Alcohol causes these messenger substances to no longer be able to transmit information correctly or quickly enough, which changes our behavior and sensations.

Influence of alcohol on the neurotransmitters

As different as the tasks and effects of the individual neurotransmitters are, so is the effect of alcohol on them:

GABA and alcohol

GABA nach Alkohol

GABA is a so-called inhibitory neurotransmitter. This means that it inhibits the activity of nerve cells and thus has a calming and relaxing effect. Alcohol promotes the formation of GABA and can itself also dock onto the GABA receptors. This is the reason why one feels more relaxed and calm under the influence of alcohol. In other words, alcohol enhances the GABA effect, which can extend to sedation, depending on the amount of alcohol. However, the binding of alcohol to GABA receptors has another effect: there are no longer enough free receptors for the neurotransmitter GABA, which leads to an imbalance between in brain metabolism and promotes, among other things, withdrawal symptoms when alcohol consumption is interrupted.

Serotonin and alcohol

Serotonin Alkohol

Alcohol leads to an increased release of serotonin, which is not called the happiness hormone without reason: It produces a pleasant feeling of well-being, has a stress-reducing, anxiety-relieving, calming effect. It is precisely this effect caused by alcohol consumption that paves the way to addiction, because this effect can only be maintained with constantly repeated consumption (in ever greater quantities). However, since chronic alcohol consumption leads to lower serotonin levels, a vicious circle of addiction is created in this way.

Dopamine and alcohol

The second messenger substance known as the happiness hormone, dopamine, is also increasingly released by alcohol. Studies show that this connection is sometimes so close that even stimuli associated with alcohol can cause this increased dopamine release.As a result, increased cravings for alcohol and decreased control over alcohol consumption often occur[1]. This is because dopamine is part of the reward system in the brain. The release of the neurotransmitter is associated with many positive experiences such as the enjoyment of certain foods, sex, or even drugs such as alcohol, and acts as a reward. Therefore, it seems very desirable for the affected person and evokes the typical craving for alcohol, which unfortunately often ends in relapse [2].

Conclusion on alcohol and dopamine, serotonin and GABA

Alcohol enhances the relaxing and calming effect of the neurotransmitter GABA and stimulates the release of the "happiness hormones" serotonin and dopamine. This ensures that alcohol consumption is often perceived as very positive and brings with it a great potential for dependence.

Sources

[1] https://www.rosenfluh.ch/media/psychiatrie-neurologie/2014/01/Neurobiol_effekte_von_alkohol.pdf
[2] https://www.aerzteblatt.de/archiv/28498/Serie-Alkoholismus-Neurobiologie-der-Alkoholabhaengigkeit