What Happened In My Brain?
"That's my last drink!" How many times have you heard that come out of your mouth?
Unfortunately, that "last drink" doesn't become the final drink forever. The real problem isn't your desire to quit. You really do want to quit forever. The real problem is that you've altered some of the normal functioning of your brain, often call the "reward pathway."
To understand how alcohol changes the brain's "normal" functioning, we have to learn about two critical elements of the complex reward pathway.
What Do Dopamine, GABA, and GABAA Do?
Dopamine is one of the most important chemicals in the brain. Its jobs include:
The neurotransmitter GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) is sort of like the communication boss in the brain. It gets to control and regulate communication between brain cells. GABA tells specific brain cells to ramp up their activity or just to chill out.
One of GABA neurotransmitters' big responsibilities is telling the GABAA neuroreceptor to boost up the amount of dopamine being produced in the brain.
Metaphorically, you can think of GABAA as sort of like a gas pedal. It controls how much dopamine goes in and is used by the engine of your brain. In a normal brain, there are many things that naturally make GABA "press the pedal." These include some foods, exercise, sunlight, touch, sex, meditation, hobbies, and whatever activities that you may enjoy.
What Happens to GABAA With Alcohol?
When alcohol flows through the bloodstream and reaches the brain cells, it binds to the GABAA neuroreceptor and kicks off a sequence of events that result in additional dopamine being pumped into the brain. When drinking occasionally in moderation, this process tends to feel good and the impact of alcohol on GABAA neuroreceptors is temporary.
However, if you consume alcohol on a more regular basis, especially in larger qualities, your GABAA neuroreceptors start to "get lazy." The alcohol-soaked neuroreceptors simply aren't having to work as hard to tell the brain to produce more dopamine. Unfortunately, over time, they become dependent on alcohol to produce even normal levels of dopamine.
Now, whenever the neurotransmitter GABA tries to communicate with the GABAA neuroreceptors, the response is muted. GABA is trying like crazy to get the brain to produce dopamine, but the GABAA neuroreceptors just don't respond like they should.
Because of reduced dopamine, you don't feel "right" when you're not drinking. Even activities that were once enjoyable, can't "press the pedal" as they once did. This neurological, medical condition is known as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).
Can We "Fix" GABAA Functioning?
The short answer is YES. The complete answer is a little more complicated.
Millions and millions of dollars have been spent studying alcohol use disorder and how addiction changes the human brain. Fortunately, neuroscientists and medical researchers have developed protocols that mostly "reset" GABAA receptor functioning.
BIG caveat #1: GABAA is not reset to exactly how it was before you began drinking. Over the course of a few days, with FDA-approved medications and additional treatment, we can reset GABAA to STOP craving alcohol. No more thinking about drinking! The protocols that we follow help "cement" a more permanent and lasting end to alcohol cravings. The total medical treatment time is around two months.
BIG caveat #2: Your brain is more malleable or trainable during those two months of medical treatment. It is imperative that we help your brain relearn to behave as it did before you developed AUD. This is accomplished through a number of treatment options designed around the specifics of your life. These may include traditional psychotherapy, life coaching, nutrition, family therapy, physical therapy, and others appropriate treatments.
What's Your Next Step Going To Be?
Two BIG QUESTIONS about Fixing Your GABAA
We understand that you might have many questions about the medical and scientific research behind our treatment. Please feel free to make an appointment and we'll be happy to dig deeper. Here are the two most common questions that we hear.
#1: Can't I Try Just Taking The Medication?
Perhaps you could find a doctor who may know the proper treatment protocol and who would suspend good judgement and prescribe you the medications.
You also might be able to find a dentist willing to drill out a cavity for you and then NOT put in a filling. The actual cavity would certainly be gone, and before the Novocain wears off, you'd feel better. Now imagine what it would feel like when you first bite into that candy bar with an open hole in your tooth.
The same holds true for our treatment program. The medical side is only part of what treats you, and without the rest, you're likely to suffer from AUD again.
Do or Do Not. There is No Try. ~ Yoda
#2: Once I'm Done With Treatment, Can I Drink Again?
You are the only person that can really make that decision. And you need to ask yourself, "why would I even want to risk AUD taking over my life again?"
Imagine that your knee has sustained a terrible injury. You've torn your meniscus, ripped your MCL and ACL, fractured your knee cap, snapped your patella tendon, crushed your cartilage, and ruptured your cruciate ligaments.
An amazing orthopedic surgeon repairs your knee. Do you follow the physical therapy that the doctor recommends or do you go skydiving just to see whether or not the repairs that the surgeon made can handle the impact of landing?