2012. Vol.3, No.7, 534-536
Published Online July 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Proposal to Prevent Alcohol Dependence Using
Purpose in Life/Ikigai to Mimic the Chemical Effects
of β-Endorphin
Riichiro Ishida
321-8 Akasabi, Nishikan-ku, Niigata, Japan
Received April 7th, 2012; revised May 2nd, 2012; accepted May 30th, 2012
Purpose in life (PIL)/ikigai is a social attitude based on the concept that, “every person has a need to es-
tablish meaning in life”. Comfort and pleasure are related to the secretion of neurotransmitters such as
serotonin, dopamine and β-endorphin. Drinking alcohol can also trigger emotions and cause the secretion
of β-endorphin. Persons, who have an inner sense of satisfaction, do not need or want to induce comfort
and pleasure by using alcohol or morphine. The primary chemical structures of β-endorphin and morphine
are similar. Therefore, it is possible that helping people to achieve PIL/ikigai could strengthen psycho-
logical and/or physical defenses against alcohol dependence.
Keywords: Purpose in Life/Ikigai; Alcohol Dependence; Pleasure; Anxiety; β-Endorphin
It is normal for a person to have ambition and to seek
pleasure, comfort, and less anxiety (Diener, 1984; Kraut, 1979;
Lu, Gilmour, Kao, Weng, Hu, Chem, Huang, & Shin, 2001).
These behaviors indicate an active healthy brain and secretion
of neurotransmitters which control the mind (Chaouloff, 1989;
Comings & Blum, 2000; Esch & Stefano, 2010; Dalayeun,
Norès, & Bergal, 1993). Successful adaptation to the environ-
ment causes pleasure and comfort which relate to a well
balanced secretion of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, do-
pamine, noradrenaline, and β-endorphin (Chaouloff, 1989; Esch
& Stefano, 2010). Anxiety is a signal that tells the individual to
make adjustments to changes in the environment and situation
(Selye, 1936, 1973) and causes an imbalance of neurotrans-
mitters (Costa-Pinto & Palemo-Neto, 2010; Chaouloff, 1989).
Recently, two social attitudes, purpose in life (PIL) and iki-
gai, have been found to be related to ambition, comfort, pleas-
ure and decreased anxiety even during various kinds of stressful
situations (e.g., Ishida, 2008; Ishida, 2011, 2012; Ishida, Okada,
& Bando, 2004). Drinking alcohol also causes comfort and
pleasure and decreased anxiety (Dalayeun, Norès, & Bergal,
1993). PIL/ikigai (Ishida, 2012) and drinking alcohol (Dalayeun,
Norès, & Bergal, 1993) are both accompanied by the secretion
of β-endorphin.
Alcohol dependence is an important and serious issue in
most countries. Therefore we propose that psychologically and
physiologically methods can be used to prevent alcohol de-
Frontal Lobe and Neurotransmitters
The frontal lobe, especially the prefrontal lobe, is more
evolved in humans than in other mammals (Brodal, 1998;
Brown, Keynes, & Lumsden, 2001). The prefrontal lobe con-
nects with other areas of the brain via neuronal networks (Bro-
dal, 1998; Brown, Keynes, & Lumsden, 2001) and plays a role
in ambition and mental integration functions (Brodal, 1998;
Brown, Keynes, & Lumsden, 2001). Therefore, PIL/ikigai is
thought to be a frontal lobe function (Ishida, 2012). In addition
to internal need, repeated environmental stimulation strength-
ens the neuronal network (Mathon, Kamal, Smidt, & Ramakers,
2003). This process is related to repeated secretion of neuro-
transmitters (Mathon, Kamal, Smidt, & Ramakers, 2003). Se-
rotonin as a neurotransmitter relates to the control of well bal-
anced emotion, dopamine relates to motivation and pleasure,
noradrenaline relates to anxiety and β-endorphin relates to de-
creasing pain and increasing comfort (Chaouloff, 1989; Com-
ings & Blum, 2000; Costa-Pinto & Palemo-Neto, 2010; Dala-
yeun, Norès, & Bergal, 1993; Esch & Stefano, 2010; Mathon,
Kamal, Smidt, & Ramakers, 2003). Therefore, personality
manifestations based on social attitudes, i.e., PIL/ikigai, could
depend on the neuronal network activity caused by the secre-
tion of neurotransmitters (Böning, 2009).
Selye proposed that stress included psychological, physical,
and chemical factors (Selye, 1936, 1973). The autonomic
nervous system helps the body adjust to changes in the
environment and the person’s situation, a defense mechanism
referred to as homeostasis (Cannon, 1939). Stress can cause a
non-specific response in the internal organs, such as adrenal
cortex hypertrophy (Selye, 1936, 1973). Stress can also cause
anxiety and an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system
(Masaoka, Onaka, Shimizu, Sakurai, & Homma, 2007; Nagai,
Wada, & Sunaga, 2002; Pollatos, Werner, Duscheck, Schandry,
Matthias, Traut-Mattausch, & Herbert, 2011). Anxiety accom-
panied by internal responses is a signal for the person to adjust
to these changes, i.e., stress (Selye, 1936, 1973). Ignoring the
signals and excessive continuous stress can cause disruption of
the homeostasis function leading to psychiatric and somatic
disease and sometimes death (Selye, 1936, 1973).
Mechanism of Purpose in Life (PIL) and Ikigai
PIL is drawn from existentialism that was developed in
Europe (Ishida, 2011). Ikigai is a Japanese concept that dates
back to the 14th century (Ishida, 2011). Both terms commonly
propose the following: “Everything changes. Life is a onetime
only event. Thus, every person has a natural and intrinsic need
to achieve a meaningful life” (Ishida, 2011). Some psycho-
logical instruments for the measurement of PIL and ikigai have
been developed (e.g., Crumbaugh & Maholick, 1964; Sato &
Tanaka, 1974). Our studies show that PIL/ikigai negatively
correlates with anxiety, psychiatric and somatic symptoms, and
the need for approval from others (Ishida, 2011; Ishida, 2012).
PIL/ikigai form a mechanism for the integration of psycholo-
gically stressful events in the past, present and future with less
anxiety and less conflicts even during stressful situations
(Ishida, 2011; Ishida, 2012). Additionally, PIL/ikigai provides a
person with the ability to delay gratification, appreciate
another’s point of view, trust in a higher power, accept personal
limitations, or count personal blessings (Ishida, 2011; Ishida,
2012). PIL/ikigai develops through positive experiences that
occur from infancy to adolescence, such as spending time in
beautiful natural surroundings, empathetic acceptance from
others, and affection from others (Ishida, 2011; Ishida, 2012).
On the other hand, excessive need for approval from others
causes anxiety and conflict during stressful situations (Ishida,
2011; Ishida, 2012). Excessive need for approval from others
develops when children are subject to excessive expectations
from parents and teachers (Ishida, 2011; Ishida, 2012). There is
strong evidence that PIL/ikigai can induce a physiological
secretion of serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, and β-endor-
phin. Persons with PIL/ikigai are likely to demonstrate more
independent spirit compared to those with excessive need for
approval from others.
Mechanism of Alcohol Dependence
Recent studies show that the β-endorphin system controls
alcohol consumption (Dalayeun, Norès, & Bergal, 1993; Gia-
noulakis, Krishnan, & Thavundayil, 1996; Morales-Mulia, de
Cortari, Amaya, & Méndez, 2012). Additionally, variation of
β-endorphin secretion depends on drinking habits (Gianoulakis,
Krishnan, & Thavundayil, 1996; Morales-Mulia, de Cortari,
Amaya, & Méndez, 2012). Persons with PIL/ikigai show less
anxiety, while those without PIL/ikigai demonstrate more anxi-
ety (Ishida, 2011; Ishida, 2012). PIL/ikigai causes secretion of
serotonin, dopamine, and β-endorphin (Ishida, 2012). Persons
who have an internal sense of satisfaction are more likely to
experience spontaneous feelings of pleasure and therefore they
do not wish to drink alcohol or take morphine to alleviate pain
(Nakata, 2006). Persons with anxiety attempt to induce pleasure
by drinking alcohol (Dalayeun, Norès, & Bergal, 1993). PIL/
ikigai triggers secretion of neurotransmitters such serotonin,
dopamine, and β-endorphin. Likewise, the brain reacts to alco-
hol with a similar neurotransmitter response. The primary struc-
ture of morphine and β-endorphin are comparable (Dragon,
Seidah, Lis, Routhier, & Chrétien, 1977). By natural or chemi-
cally induced means, there is evidence that indicates that every
person naturally seeks comfort, pleasure, and decreased anxiety.
Successful treatment for addiction of drugs or alcohol (or other
types of addiction) results in the addicted individual’s ability to
experience an internal sense of pleasure, self-belief and self-
efficacy (Levinthal, 1988; Peele, 1990-1991). This evidence
suggests that establishing PIL/ikigai by positive experiences
could prevent alcohol dependence. Additionally positive ex-
periences, such as spending time in beautiful natural surround-
ings and acceptance of warm empathetic attitudes from others
helps persons to establish PIL/ikigai.
Future Study
Regardless of the importance of the alcohol dependence issue,
the previous studies described above were studies about in-
dividuals. Other possible factors that influence alcohol de-
pendence must also be considered. Therefore, totally integrated
studies using experimental and epidemiological methods should
be performed in the future; these studies include the chemical
traits of neurotransmitters, development of PIL/ikigai and
anxiety, alcohol dependence, effects of counseling for persons
with alcohol dependence, and other possible factors influencing
alcohol dependence. Additionally, other issues such as drug
dependence, gambling problems, and the excessive need for
approval from others which causes greater anxiety should be
Every person has a natural need to have pleasure and com-
fort and to avoid anxiety. PIL/ikigai relates to the inner aspects
of the brain, while drinking alcohol is an external and artificial
mechanism. Both PIL/ikigai and drinking alcohol result in
pleasure and comfort and secretion of β-endorphin. Therefore,
we suggest that helping individuals to achieve PIL/ikigai may
be one method of deterring alcohol dependence.
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