How to Release Endorphins Without Drugs Or Alcohol
Euphoria — a feeling of intense happiness or excitement — is something all people crave, and on some level need from time to time. When a person is addicted to alcohol or drugs, many times it is because he or she is seeking that intense feeling of joy over and over again through artificially tapping into the brain’s natural production and activation of neurotransmitters called endorphins. The problem is that the way drugs and alcohol work on endorphins can alter the way the brain functions, interfere with normal endorphin production and lead to dependence. So what exactly are endorphins and how does alcohol work on them? And what about the effect of drugs?
What Are Endorphins?
Endorphins are neurotransmitters that send information from one neuron to another in the brain. They are created in response to specific stimuli such as pain, stress and/or fear. And they work by blocking other neural activity to reduce pain, or signaling other neurons to control emotions, usually by causing feelings of pleasure. Endorphins primarily affect other neurons called opioid receptors, which are found in the brain, spinal cord and digestive tract, by attaching to them and producing feel-good sensations. One type of endorphin, beta-endorphins, has been shown to have a greater pain-reduction and pleasure-inducing effect on the body and brain than morphine. Beta-endorphins affect people in the same manner as powerful drugs like morphine or codeine, but without the addictive properties. This is largely because naturally occurring endorphins are broken down in the body and recycled. But the effects on endorphins created by drug or alcohol use are very different.
How Does Alcohol Work On Endorphins?
When drugs and alcohol attach to opioid receptors they release feel-good sensations in much the same manner as naturally occurring endorphin action, but they do not break down in the same manner. Because they do not readily break down, the drugs or alcohol are able to reactivate the receptor repeatedly, extending and increasing the length of the feel-good sensation and the likelihood for dependence and addiction. Additionally, since the brain responds differently to stimuli in different people, some people may have more or less intense responses to opioid receptor activity than others, leading to a greater likelihood of abuse in some.
Although research has shown that small amounts of alcohol consumption can release endorphins to produce a healthy pleasure sensation, reducing the incidence of depression and increasing motivation and focus, consuming even a little too much alcohol can have the opposite effect. The slightest bit too much alcohol can cause your brain to turn off endorphin production and introduce feelings of depression and lethargy.
How Can Endorphins Be Released Naturally?
The good news is that there are ways you can release endorphins naturally and without the use of drugs or alcohol. Research has shown that the following methods can be used to naturally release endorphins at a variety of levels.
- Exercise naturally releases endorphins into the body. Exercising 20 to 30 minutes, three times a week, can produce beta-endorphins that help improve mood, increase feelings of pleasure and reduce overall body aches and pains. Exercise such as running, dancing, weight-lifting, gardening, walking, swimming and a variety of other forms of physical activity are all helpful. Simply choose the activity that you like and get moving.
- Laughter has been shown to reduce stress hormones and produce beta-endorphins. Even the anticipation of laughter works. Attending a comedy show, reading the comics, or finding other ways to incorporate laughter into life is an effective, healthy and low-cost way to release endorphins and feel good.
- Aromatherapies can be very effective in releasing endorphins in the body naturally. The sense of smell is one the most powerful human senses. Stimulation of scent causes immediate changes in the body, including heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension and brain activity. Inhaling specific scents can activate the release of endorphins as well as other neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine to cause immediate changes in mood, pain levels, stress and anxiety. Some commonly used scents include vanilla, jasmine, sandalwood and lavender.
- Food can also release endorphins naturally. Chocolate, your favorite food, spicy foods and foods high in antioxidants — which can help fight free radicals that can affect mental health — have all been shown to activate the production of endorphins at varying levels. Additionally, foods containing omega 3s and other “good” fats help produce endorphin-promoting hormones called eicosanoids. But be sure to stay away from highly processed foods that can interfere with brain chemistry and function.
- Human touch, especially hugs, can release endorphins as well as a chemical known as oxytocin, which helps improve bonding, social interaction and lower stress responses. So rather than give your friends a hearty handshake when you see them, why not go in for the hug and get a dose of natural feel-good?
- Sex, or more specifically orgasm, also stimulates oxytocin and endorphin release.
Naturally releasing endorphins can help reduce pain, increase pleasure and improve overall sense of well-being without the unwanted and dangerous side effects that are associated with drug and alcohol use and abuse.