Alcohol, Dopamine, and the Hedonic Set Point

       Today we will learn about the harmful effects of drinking alcohol and how alcohol and dopamine effect the brain known as the hedonic set point. When we drink alcohol, we consume a drug that impacts many areas within our body. For example, one of the areas most affected by alcohol is the brain.

      With long-term alcohol abuse, neurological changes may occur, impacting cognitive and mood functioning. Even moderate use of alcohol can result in changes in mood, mental and emotional health, and cognitive functioning.  Furthermore, our brain can even undergo structural changes such as reducing gray matter.

hedonic set point alcohol and dopamine harmful effects of drinking alcohol

       Understanding how alcohol impacts our brain can help empower us in our healing journey. This knowledge also invites us to be more compassionate with ourselves. Changing our alcohol use is not a matter of “willpower.”

       While alcohol impacts the brain in many ways, today, we will focus on its effect on dopamine and the hedonic set point. Dopamine is a neurochemical (a chemical released by the brain) that interacts with other neurons and reinforces pleasurable experiences.

       Dopamine’s function is rooted in our brain’s primal desire to ensure survival. Do something enjoyable, hug a loved one, or play with your pet, and your brain releases dopamine to encourage you to repeat that action. 

Dopamine and Alcohol

hedonic set point alcohol and dopamine harmful effects of drinking alcohol

How Alcohol Leads to Physical Addiction

harmful effects of drinking alcohol

       By regularly pumping our brains with synthetic dopamine levels, we convey alcohol is better than food, rest, sex, and other pleasurable experiences.

The Hedonic Set Point

       The theory of the Hedonic Set Point asserts that a driving factor of addiction is the dysfunction of our “pleasure threshold.” In essence, the “Hedonic Set Point” is our pleasure baseline. When our brain receives enough dopamine to feel a pleasure response, it causes us to feel good. Our dopamine levels spike as we continue to drink alcohol, resulting in our pleasure  baseline rising over time enforcing the harmful effects of drinking alcohol.

hedonic set point alcohol and dopamine harmful effects of drinking alcohol

 ‍       Our brains require higher dopamine levels to feel and experience pleasure as this occurs. Previously pleasurable experiences, like going for a walk, reading a book, or engaging in other hobbies, no longer produce enough dopamine to reach our rising threshold.

       This is critical when considering stress and anxiety as well. Your body naturally craves regulation and rest during stressful situations. However, the coping mechanisms that helped us relax prior may no longer work as efficiently at regulating us because our hedonic set-point has changed and increased due to alcohol use.

       This is part of the science behind cravings. We crave regulation and pleasurable experiences, and the thing that provides the best form of regulation becomes alcohol.‍ We slowly ease our hedonic set-point back to an average level when we begin drinking less.

harmful effects of drinking alcohol

        This process takes time, and it’s important to dial into self-care practices as you allow your brain to heal and reset.

Read on here to learn about Tips to Manage Anxiety

Medication Management and Counseling

New Age Psychiatry offers licensed and certified psychiatric services through virtual telehealth appointments within the state of Florida. We understand the harmful effects of drinking alcohol, and we will work hard to help you manage your condition.

       New Age Psychiatry is a modern mental health service in Florida that approaches addiction and other mental health issues with compassion and forward-thinking techniques. New Age Psychiatry offers certified psychiatric services through telehealth appointments in Florida. Some of the highlights of the New Age Psychiatry approach include:

  • Online Screening – We will begin with certified online screening to provide an overview of psychiatric care. We also offer a personalized, specific diagnosis through our psychiatric Telehealth services.
  • Diagnosis, Recovery, & Treatment – Our full range of comprehensive psychiatric telehealth services can aid in treating a multitude of psychiatric illnesses and assist in the recovery process
  • Telehealth Services – Our psychiatric telehealth services are available throughout the state of Florida and can assist you in psychiatric care through counseling and medication management

Contact us on the web for a virtual appointment. If you prefer to use email, you can reach us at or call us today at (877) 769-5206 for more information today.