Alcohol and dopamine

Alcohol Health Res World. 1997;21(2):108-14.


Dopamine is a neuromodulator that is used by neurons in several brain regions involved in motivation and reinforcement, most importantly the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Dopamine alters the sensitivity of its target neurons to other neurotransmitters, particularly glutamate. In addition, dopamine can affect the neurotransmitter release by the target neurons. Dopamine-containing neurons in the NAc are activated by motivational stimuli, which encourage a person to perform or repeat a behavior. Even low alcohol doses can increase dopamine release in part of the NAc. This dopamine release may contribute to the rewarding effects of alcohol and may thereby play a role in promoting alcohol consumption. In contrast to other stimuli, alcohol-related stimuli maintain their motivational significance even after repeated alcohol administration, which may contribute to the craving for alcohol observed in alcoholics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / metabolism*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism


  • Ethanol
  • Dopamine