Revealed: the secret of happiness

By Hayley Hannan

Drinking makes you happy, research has found. Cartoon / Rod Emmerson
Drinking makes you happy, research has found. Cartoon / Rod Emmerson

There's now scientific proof that alcohol makes people feel happy.

Researchers at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Centre at the University of California have found drinking alcohol leads to the release of endorphins in areas of the brain that produce feelings of pleasure and reward.

Lead author and clinical director at the Gallo Centre Jennifer Mitchell said the findings proved what scientists had long suspected.

"This is something we've speculated on for about 30 years, based on animal studies, but haven't observed in humans till now. It provides the first direct evidence of how alcohol makes people feel good."

Endorphins are small proteins, often produced naturally, with the ability to produce a feeling of wellbeing and pain relief.

Researchers used positive emission tomography to map the immediate effects of alcohol on the brains of 25 subjects.

The study tested the brains of 13 heavy drinkers and 12 control subjects.

In all of the subjects, greater feelings of pleasure were reported by drinkers who exhibited more endorphins released in the nucleus accumbens.

In addition, greater feelings of intoxication were recorded by heavy drinkers when more endorphins were released in the orbitofrontal cortex.

"This indicates that the brains of heavy or problem drinkers are changed in a way that makes them more likely to find alcohol pleasant, and may be a clue to how problem drinking develops in the first place," said Dr Mitchell. "That greater feeling of reward might cause them to drink too much."

- APNZ

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