Dopamine, Alcohol, and You

by Kaye M. 5 months ago in addiction

AWS, AWD, and others.

Dopamine, Alcohol, and You

I was curious about Alcohol as a remedy, because self-medicating seems to be somewhat of a trend. I wanted to know if alcohol deficiency was linked to certain types of disorders (outside of AWS) and dream states, where the lack of alcohol caused the presence of disorder symptoms and night terrors,and the presence of alcohol served as a remedy for the symptoms and better sleep habits. After extensive research of current research out there available on the inter-webs, I found quite the opposite. Despite, alcohol being known as a feel good for parties, it actually can do extensive damage to your brain (which is why it's for special occasions).


Alcohol Deficiency Syndrome does not seem to be a syndrome alone but rather a general lack of desired alcohol for one who has developed an alcohol dependency. The lack of desired alcohol leads to an Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS).

AWS symptoms include tremors, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, headaches, increased heart rate, sweating, irritability, confusion, insomnia, nightmares, and high blood pressure. The more serious version of AWS is AWD or Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium. The additional symptoms would include chest pain, delirium, delusions, eye and muscle movement problems, fear, fever, hallucinations, increased startle reflex, involuntary muscle contractions, restlessness, seizures, and sudden mood changes.

Symptoms between AWS, AWD, GAD, Depression, and Bipolar

Each and every one of the symptoms of both AWS and AWD can occur with other types of disorders. While they are prominently associated with AWS and AWD in this instance, there are other types that they can pair with as well. Such as, but definitely not limited to, General Anxiety Disorder, Depression, and Bipolar Disorder. There are more similarities found between AWS and GAD. However, Alcohol isn’t known to cause these disorders to form but rather intensify them if they are preexisting. The existence of these disorders can intensify the possibility of AWS and AWD coming into effect in the future.

Another condition that can come into effect is Wernicke's Encephalopy and Korsakoff Syndrome, which is primarily known as Wernicke's-Korsakoff Syndrome, as they often come in pairs. Wernicke's is considered to be the first stage, and if you catch it early enough, you may be able to reverse it's effects. However, Korsakoff Syndrome has not been found to be reversible. This conditions comes with a deficiency of the B1 vitamin, or Thiamine (the vitamin the put in Monster Energy drinks).

Dopamine, Alcohol, and You

Think of Dopamine building a wall, every time you consume alcohol. Before you’ve ever tried alcohol, dopamine is just a base, and when you add alcohol for the first time, this base is now a raised platform.This creates an expected level of Dopamine. So, the next time you know you’ll be able to consume alcohol, say for the same type of event, or a special occasion, Dopamine will rise because you know you’ll be able to have some. So, when you do, you’re adding a new layer atop of that previous expectation dopamine level.

When alcohol is consumed, it can affect your brain's mesolimbic system, which serves as the reward path. Consuming alcohol at small doses causes a surge of dopamine to flood your reward pathways, which is basically your whole body's response to motivational incentive stimuli. The motivational incentive in this case being the consumption of alcohol. The next experience with alcohol, dopamine would be released simply by it’s being available to you, and your anticipation of it.

Dopamine levels and alcohol

Each and every time you go back for more alcohol, the dopamine level raises, which is why alcoholics have to consume more and more alcohol in order to achieve the same high. Rather than good old fashioned cement, you're now trying to build that wall with ice, and it keeps melting. It’s a tolerance to the effects of alcohol. You would need to surpass the expectation dopamine level in order to create the high. This develops an Alcohol Dependency.

That is the difference between Alcohol Dependence and Alcoholism or Alcohol Abuse. Alcohol Abuse is when a human decides to drink, despite having previous bad experiences and oncoming health problems. Alcohol Abuse Disorder, as Alcoholism is known as officially, is just a strong urge to drink regardless of consequences and over time, can lead to an alcohol dependence.

Alcohol and Dreams

Alcohol and dreams don’t go hand in hand, at least from what I’ve gathered, not in a good way. While it is considered a sedative and can knock you out, it suppresses the REM cycle of sleep, so you go straight for the other type of sleep, Non-REM sleep, that helps with memory and learning processes. However, if you drink just before bed, it’s likely that your alcohol blood level will drop in the middle of the night, which would cause a REM sleep cycle to start, and sleep would continue to get more shallow.

This could contribute to a surge in the Adenosine neurotransmitter which is how alcohol can cause one to sleep so swiftly, causing it to run out more quickly, and contributing to waking in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep. In some cases the REM cycle of sleep could contribute to Sleep hallucinations, such as sleep terrors, night terrors, and other types of parasomnias (sleep disorders).


Banerjee, Niladri. “Neurotransmitters in Alcoholism: A Review of Neurobiological and Genetic Studies.” Indian Journal of Human Genetics, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, Jan. 2014,

Becker, Howard C. “Alcohol Dependence, Withdrawal, and Relapse.” Alcohol Research & Health : the Journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2008,

Martin, Peter R, et al. “The Role of Thiamine Deficiency in Alcoholic Brain Disease.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003,

“Sleep Hallucinations – Overview & Facts.” Sleep Education,

Kaye  M.
Kaye M.
Read next: Never In the Cover of Night
Kaye M.

I struggle a lot, so I write a lot. When I'm not writing, I'm hanging out with my kitten, Skips, researching Mental Health Disorders, crafting great cups of coffee, and sipping wine.

Twitter: @lilkitty127

Insta: @lilkittymew

See all posts by Kaye M.