According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), 17.6 million Americans (1 in every 12 adults) suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence. Meaning that alcohol is currently the most commonly abused substance of abuse in the United States – which poses the question… why is alcohol addictive?
Alcohol addiction is the inability to manage your drinking habits. People with alcohol addictions often turn to alcohol as a way to cope or feel that they can’t go through their day without drinking, leading to a physical dependency on alcohol. Alcohol addiction can lead to a variety of physical and mental problems that can ultimately negatively impact their careers and personal relationships with others.
So, why is alcohol addictive? It comes down to alcohol stimulating a release of dopamine and endorphins in your brain. These chemicals produce pleasurable feelings such as euphoria, relaxation and sedation. Some people are more prone to alcohol addiction because their brain releases more pleasure chemicals when they drink which makes them more susceptible to drink again and become physically dependent.
Alcohol also increases the release of endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are natural chemicals that activate opioid receptors and cause relaxation and euphoria. The sense of pleasure experienced from this process is another reason why alcohol is addictive.
Alcohol is also a central nervous system depressant, inhibiting brain activity by signaling the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The increase in GABA signaling is why people who drink a lot of alcohol have slurred speech, experience “blackouts” or memory loss and experience dizziness or difficulty walking.
If you drink alcohol often enough, your brain can actually adapt to the increased inhibition by increasing signaling chemicals like glutamate – which works against GABA to increase brain cell activity. Over time, this can cause tolerance which means that the person will need to drink more and more to experience the same pleasurable effects they once experienced by drinking alcohol.
All of these pleasurable feelings are especially enticing when paired with psychological reason for drinking, for example to cope with stress or unpleasurable feelings.
Alcohol addiction is a very real disease, contrary to societal stigmas placed upon it. So if you, or someone you know, is battling alcohol addiction, it is important to know that it is not a moral failing or mistake that you – or they – made.
Because it is a real disease, many people with this condition require licensed support to quit drinking and overcome their addiction. If you or someone you know is showing signs of addiction, contact our team at Wellbridge to learn more about our treatment programs.