What Makes Alcohol so Addictive

Anyone who has consumed alcohol knows it changes the way you feel and has some sort of effect on the brain, but what exactly makes it so addictive? Many people suffering from alcohol addiction go through embarrassing situations and do things they wouldn’t normally do, all while continuing to drink  more alcohol. New research may lead to better understanding alcohol addiction and can hopefully help create better treatment options for people suffering from this disease.

Social Influences

Probably the most common reason people start to drink alcohol is for social reasons. Almost every party or get together you go to has alcohol and people are raising their glasses to toast to whatever occasion is happening. People celebrate holidays by drinking together and turning 21 is a huge party for one reason - you can legally consume alcohol. Not only do all of these social situations encourage people to drink, but they also can cause someone to feel pressured if they don’t drink. Alcohol  changes the way people think, feel and act so they may forget their usual concerns and code of behavior and may make decisions that are not good for them. Some people even feel like when they are drinking they don’t experience their usual stress or sadness and alcohol helps them be more social and fun to be around. Some even say that drinking alcohol makes them feel more confident. All of these reasons can cause people to feel like they cannot be in social situations unless alcohol is involved and this is a huge factor in the beginning of people’s issue with drinking too much alcohol.

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Chemical Factors

Not only do those social influences come into play, but alcohol also causes a chemical reaction in the brain that makes you want more. Drinking alcohol causes the brain to make more feel-good endorphins and can even help numb physical pain. These endorphins are associated with pleasure and reward and are linked to the brain’s addictive behaviors. To simplify, alcohol causes a reaction in the brain that makes us feel good, and our bodies crave that pleasurable feeling which makes us want to drink more. Heavy drinkers experience even more endorphins when they drink and can feel more drunk than other people who are drinking the same amount of alcohol. While alcohol creates that feeling of happiness, it also turns off important parts of our brain that control impulses and decision making, which is why sometimes you don’t have the best judgement when you have been drinking. This cycle makes you feel like you want to drink more and causes you to lose control.

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Side Effects of Drinking Alcohol

Because it slows down our central nervous system, drinking alcohol also slows brain activity which causes us to feel relaxed and without a care in the world. Drinking alcohol has a sedating effect that feels similar to taking anti-anxiety medications or muscle-relaxers. These effects on the brain are what cause people who drink a lot to slur their speech, struggle to walk, and suffer memory loss or blackouts. Then, when an alcoholic wakes up and starts to try to piece together what they did the night before, they often want to drink again because it makes them feel better or they may need to drink in order to not experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This is just part of the vicious cycle of being addicted to alcohol and the regular drinking makes their tolerance higher, which means they need more alcohol to feel the same way they once did. Other common side effects associated with drinking heavily are regular blackouts, muscle aches, chronic stomach issues like nausea and vomiting, dizziness, fainting, and even permanent loss of coordination.

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Extended Use

Not only does drinking alcohol affect the brain, but it also is very dangerous for the heart and can cause elevated blood pressure that increases the risk of having a stroke. Heavy drinking can also cause liver failure and pancreatitis, which can be incredibly painful and life threatening. Over time, heavy drinkers can experience personality changes like an increased likelihood of aggression, inability to function at work, and  mood swings.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Even when alcoholics do recognize the problems their drinking causes, they struggle to quit on their own because of the negative withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal from alcohol can include fever, sweating, nausea, vomiting, muscle tremors, anxiety, agitation, seizures and many other problems. Some heavy drinkers even get delirium tremens or DTs which come with uncontrollable shaking, high fever, heart problems, confusion and hallucinations. These  negative symptoms of withdrawal typically happen about 8 hours after the last drink and can last for several days. Not only are the withdrawal symptoms painful and uncomfortable, but they can be life threatening and cause death in severe cases. This is the reason that many alcoholics just can’t quit their addiction without help from professionals.

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As you can see, there are many factors that go into the reason why alcohol is so addictive. The addiction is often started because of social events and pressure to drink at them. After that, the feelings of happiness and boosted confidence keep people drinking, then the embarrassment of their behavior or alcohol withdrawal symptoms causes them to drink again in an attempt to feel better. If you or a loved one are suffering from alcohol addiction, it is very important that you ask for help. It is not easy to get through addiction and it is almost impossible to accomplish on your own.

To find out more about our 12-week alcohol treatment study in San Diego, call us at (858) 784-7867 (STOP). Also, if you are a frequent drinker with no intention of quitting alcohol, call 858-784-7867 to find out if you’re eligible to volunteer for a 5-week, paid research study that aims to develop new medications for those suffering from alcohol use disorder.

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