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Why Your Brain Always Says Yes to a Second Drink

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“Just one drink” is a hopeful promise-turned-lie we’ve all uttered one too many times in our lives. But now, researchers from Texas A&M University have figured out the reason it’s so hard to cut yourself off after one pint or one glass of vino: our brains are actually wired to reach for another.

When alcohol enters your system, it affects the feel-good dopamine D1 neurons found in the part of your brain that controls motivation and reward systems, called the dorsomedial striatum. Researchers found that these D1 neurons actually change their shape when stimulated by booze, encouraging you to keep gratifying them with more liquid happiness. (Learn more about what’s going on with Your Brain On: Alcohol.)

The problem? The more you sip, the more activated the dopamine neurons become, encouraging you to indulge even more and continue a loop that’s hard for responsibility to pull you out of—which is what neurologically makes alcohol abuse so easy for some people to succumb to. (How do you know when you’re in trouble? Watch for these 8 Signs You're Drinking Too Much Alcohol.)

Moderate alcohol intake—that’s one to two drinks a day for women—offers a whole host of health benefits, like heart protection and brain boost (plus these 8 Reasons Drinking Alcohol Is Actually Good for You). But if you give in too often, you’ll bulldoze right past all these health benefits and dive straight into the health risks of heavy and binge drinking, which include an increased risk of high blood pressure, cancer, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, and more.

So while you may have the best of intentions when you agree to meet your friends for a drink on a Tuesday night, just remember that your brain may make other plans for you once it feels just how delightful one drink is.


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