The reward circuit (aka pleasure-reward pathway) refers to cell-to-cell communications (aka neural networks) that rely on dopamine neurotransmitters. Dopamine is known as our “feel good” neurotransmitter. Thus dopamine neurotransmitters are the reason a person experiences a pleasurable feeling as the reward for drinking alcohol (or using other drugs).
To explain this dynamic is to explain how it is the brain controls everything a person thinks, feels, says and does.
Alcohol and the Reward Circuit Connection
The brain exerts this control through an electro-chemical signaling process, commonly referred to as neural networks. A neural network is comprised of:
- brain cells (neurons) – the “brains” of the neural networks as they send and receive the electrical signaling (the messaging to think, feel, say or do something)
- branch-like extensions – carry the electrical signaling from one cell to another cell
- synapses – the gap between the branchlike extensions
- neurotransmitters – the chemical messengers located at the end of the outgoing branchlike extension that convert the electrical signaling into “something” that can cross the synapse
- receptors – receive the neurotransmitters “like a key in a door lock” on the receiving cell’s branchlike extension and convert it back into an electrical signal to carry the message onto the receiving cell.
As I stated, the reward circuit neural networks rely on dopamine neurotransmitters – the chemical portion of the electro-chemical signaling processes. And it is the ethyl alcohol chemical in alcoholic beverages that taps these dopamine-reliant reward circuits.
When a person misuses alcohol –
which for women is defined as more than 7 standard drinks per week OR more than 3 standard drinks on any day, and
for men as more than 14 standard drinks per week OR more than 4 standard drinks on any day –
the ethyl alcohol chemical changes that person’s reward circuits, which in turn changes a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
It is this change that causes drinking behaviors, such as driving while impaired; saying mean, hurtful things; physically attacking someone or passing out, as examples.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) provides an excellent explanation in this short 1:48 minute video, “The Reward Circuit: How the Brain Responds to Natural Rewards and Drugs.”
Raising Awareness Amongst Employees Can Save Employers Billions
To help employers understand the billions of dollars alcohol misuse causes, I quote from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)’s feature, “Excessive Drinking Costs U.S. $223.5 Billion,” and draw your attention to “losses in workplace productivity” = 72% of the total and “health care” expenses for problems caused by excessive drinking = 11% of the total:
The cost of excessive alcohol consumption in the United States reached $223.5 billion in 2006 [the most recent year for which data were available] or about $1.90 per drink. Almost three-quarters of these costs were due to binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more alcoholic beverages per occasion for women or five or more drinks per occasion for men, and is the most common form of excessive alcohol consumption in the United States.
The researchers found that the cost of excessive drinking was quite far-reaching, reflecting the effect this dangerous behavior has on many aspects of the drinker’s life and on the lives of those around them [in other words, secondhand drinking]. The costs largely resulted from losses in workplace productivity (72% of the total cost), health care expenses for problems caused by excessive drinking (11% of total), law enforcement and other criminal justice expenses related to excessive alcohol consumption (9% of total), and motor vehicle crash costs from impaired driving (6% of the total).
What Employers Can Do to Reduce the Workplace Costs of Alcohol Misuse
Education. But not the typical alcohol misuse education/prevention training. Rather the kind I provide that gives employees the information and tools they need to SELF-ELECT changing their drinking patterns. Not only this, but my training programs give employees the information and tools they need to SELF-ELECT changing how they cope with a person’s drinking behaviors. In other words, how they cope with secondhand drinking, a phenomenon that affects 90 million Americans and up to 40% of a workforce.
For more on these workplace costs and my approaches, check out:
- Innovative Solution to Reduce Workplace Impacts of Alcohol Misuse | Secondhand Drinking
- Global Research on Alcohol’s Harm to Others
- Extrapolating the Workplace Costs of Secondhand Drinking
- Creating Secondhand Drinking Prevention Programs to Meet Company | Agency Needs