Why Is Alcohol Addictive? Why Some People Become Alcoholics
Alcohol tops the list of the most commonly abused mind-altering substances in the world, and is perhaps the oldest drug we know of. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, over one quarter of American adults partake in binge drinking every year.
Many people use alcohol without ever becoming addicted, while others fall in to alcohol addiction, or alcoholism. This is because alcohol can impact the brain in a way that causes dependence and physical addiction. This combined with a number of factors such as genetic predisposition, social factors, and the way in which alcohol is used can cause addiction.
The Brain’s Reward System
To understand why alcohol is so addictive, we need to understand how alcohol acts on the brain and body. The brain works by carrying signals and messages from one neuron to another. These are called neurotransmitters, and the main inhibitory neurotransmitter is gamma-aminobutyric acid, often known as GABA. GABA is the neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for calming the nervous system and relaxing the mind and body.
When somebody consumes alcohol for an extended period of time, the body responds to the increase in activity at the GABA receptors by releasing glutamate, a neurotransmitter that excites the brain. This is the brain’s attempt to counteract the effects of alcohol, and leads to tolerance.
Another neurotransmitter largely active in the addiction process is dopamine. Alcohol hits dopamine receptors in the brain, which are responsible for the experience of pleasure. As people consume alcohol regularly, the dopamine is depleted in the brain, leaving the person feeling a lack of pleasure. This lack of pleasure can lead a person to seek increased pleasure through the consumption of more alcohol.
Genetic factors play a huge role in the development of alcoholism and addiction. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, research suggests that genetics account for about fifty percent of the risk of addiction. Those that have immediate family members with a history of addiction are far more likely to develop addiction to alcohol over their lifetime.
In addition to the genetic predisposition people may face, evidence strongly suggests that those raised in alcoholic households are far more likely to develop alcoholism than those who do not. Furthermore, family histories of mental health disorders and personal history of mental health disorders greatly increase the risk of addiction.
Social Factors in Addiction
There are many social and environmental factors that contribute to the risk of developing alcoholism. Those that experience trauma, poverty, and social circles where drug and alcohol abuse are prevalent see higher rates of alcoholism and drug addiction.
Other Risk Factors for Alcoholism
Using multiple drugs or partaking in polysubstance abuse can greatly increase the risk of developing addiction to drugs and alcohol. Those that use alcohol or drugs at younger ages are more likely to develop addiction as well. Although some people may use without any problems, many people end up developing addiction and alcoholism without ever intending to.
Dependence, Withdrawal, and Recovery
As tolerance builds to alcohol, individuals begin consuming more. This causes dependence to develop, which means the mind and body grow dependent upon the presence of alcohol in the system. This is often classified as addiction or alcoholism.
When a person stops using alcohol, it can be quite dangerous. Alcohol withdrawal can actually be fatal, and it is important to find a medical detox to help you through the process. After detox, an individual may seek help at a residential treatment center or outpatient treatment center like Comfort Recovery.
There are benefits to outpatient treatment, as there are with many other treatment models. Here at Comfort, we do our best to meet people where they are with their addiction, and address their needs to help them live a life healthy and sober.