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  • Maureen Anderson

Neurotransmitters: What are they and what do they have to do with sobriety?

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that help nerve cells communicate with each other. They include serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, GABA, and acetylcholine. Neurotransmitters serve several functions, such as regulating appetite, the sleep-wake cycle, and mood. But what do they have to do with getting sober?

86% of Americans have suboptimal neurotransmitter levels due to poor diet, environmental toxins, drugs (prescription and recreational), alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners. It's not uncommon to drink alcohol to fill these depleted levels. When we balance neurotransmitter levels, we feel better. When we deal with physiology first, we're in a better place to begin dealing with the emotional pieces of getting sober.

Here is a list of 3 major neurotransmitters, what they control, and how to boost them naturally.

GABA - stability

GABA is a major inhibitory neurotransmitter. It directs personality and how you handle life's stressors. A severe deficiency can lead to alcohol and marijuana cravings. Symptoms of low GABA include general anxiety, OCD, low libido, and weight gain.

GABA boosters include almonds, oats, bananas, beef liver, broccoli, and halibut. Slow movement (walking), connection to breath, yoga, time in nature, hobbies, and healthy ING activities also boost GABA.

Serotonin - playfulness

Serotonin is believed to help regulate mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function. Deficiency can cause the inability to sleep, low estrogen, depression, loss of joy, and sexual dysfunction.

Serotonin boosters include tryptophan-rich foods like turkey, smoked meats, fermented foods, and mushrooms. Serotonin-boosting activities include chanting (which blocks negative thoughts), spirituality, prayer (which invokes peace and calm), loving-kindness meditation, sleep, and aerobic exercise.

"Brain wave tests prove that when we use positive words, our "feel good" hormones flow. Positive self-talk releases endorphins and serotonin in our brain, which then flow throughout our body, making us feel good. These neurotransmitters stop flowing when we use negative words." - Ruth Fishel

Dopamine - power

Dopamine plays a role as a “reward center” and in many body functions, including memory, movement, motivation, mood, and attention. A dopamine deficiency can lead to either burning too much energy, or loss of energy, fatigue, mental sluggishness, weight gain, avoidance of social contact, and loss of confidence in making decisions.

Dopamine boosters include chicken, chocolate, eggs, turkey, dairy, yogurt, and cottage cheese - a diet that emphasizes adequate protein. Dopamine-boosting practices include alternate nostril breathing and anaerobic exercise (more intense, shorter duration).

The missing piece in quitting drinking

Yes, talk therapy is important. However, a lot of the missing pieces in stopping drinking are in the central nervous system, physiology, and biochemistry. The key is to first repair the brain and body physically and then move on to the emotions.


Eric Braverman, MD - The Edge Effect

Jolene Park, - The NOURISH Method

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