A shortcut to smiles for miles

A shortcut to smiles for miles

There is a great paradox in the tradition of drinking alcoholic drinks. People associate it with a surge in their mood and the good times but in actual fact alcohol as a chemical is a depressant. Wouldn't it be better if we could still have the drinks with dinner, the parties, the time with friends, and not combat these good times with latent effects of alcohol sending our mood south?

One of the effects alcohol has on the human brain is to trigger dopamine in the reward centre. I know what you’re thinking “Dopamine is a feel-good right?”. Well, yes dopamine being released in the reward centre is what happens when pleasurable stuff happens. But here is the twist. Alcohol triggers this whilst also affecting brain chemistry by altering the function of neurotransmitters. The specific receptors affected are Gaba and glutamate and their levels are altered artificially by the alcohol which accounts for the depressant effects.

So whilst we think we are experiencing something pleasurable it’s not beneficial for our mood moving forward. In fact, levels of serotonin (a hormone regulating our mood and happiness), which is also triggered by alcohol, can actually be diminished over time through drinking alcoholic drinks.

There are various names for the mood that can be caused following consumption of alcohol. ‘Hangxiety’ is a famous one coined by a leading professor of neuropsychopharmacology. It refers to the low feeling following consumption of alcohol and it is in stark contrast to feeling fresh, motivated and excited for the day. This occurs as the body tries to correct the imbalance in brain chemicals mentioned above. Your body works hard to correct the levels of Gaba and glutamate receptors whilst under the effects of alcohol. So afterwards you end up with unnatural levels of each which leads to anxiety. It can take several days for this imbalance to be addressed. Explaining the effects alcohol has on the brain is very complicated stuff. And it’s complicated because it acts on an intricate and balanced system of chemicals. This fact alone might make us think twice about whether it might be beneficial to opt for an alcohol free option.

Let’s get beer specific for a moment. Studies have shown that a substance called hordenine can have mood boosting properties. Hordenine is a naturally occurring alkaloid found in various plants including malt that is one of the ingredients in beer. Obviously, given what we’ve already said, it makes a lot of sense to take your beer without the alcohol if you want to make the most of this perk!

The detailed neuroscience aside there is one more straightforward reason that alcohol free drinks will benefit your mood. The post drink experience and what is possible in those hours and days is vastly different. As a result you are far more likely to partake in tasks, activities or interactions that in themselves boost your mood. This might mean you perform well at work or decide to enjoy a bike ride at the weekend but either way the ability to do these things comes by avoiding alcohol and the negative aftereffects.

As human beings we are inherently social animals. One of the most beneficial things for us to boost our mood is to indulge this side of our being and gather with our friends and family. Accompanying these gatherings with drinks is part of our culture and no doubt a great accompaniment but if these drinks are alcoholic then we are setting ourselves up to suffer off the back of it. With the opportunity of having the mood boosting benefits of spending time socialising without the problematic consequences of alcohol why
would we pass it up?


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