Alcohol is one of the most addictive substances known and one of the most dangerous. Studies show that roughly 7% of the American population has a drinking problem. According to studies, over 8 million Americans can be classified as alcoholics. Alcoholism is defined as the addiction to drinking alcohol.
However, the unfortunate reality is that less than half of those suffering from alcoholism receive treatment. Although many people seek help from resources such as rehab, 12 step programs or counselling, many more are left untreated.
Another interesting statistic is that over 14.5 million people have alcohol use disorder, otherwise known as alcoholism in America. But, unfortunately, only a fraction of these people received treatment.
Now, this begs the question of why alcohol is so addictive. What causes people to start drinking excessive amounts of alcohol? Moreover, what keeps them coming back for more?
Today, we will discuss various factors or influences that make alcohol highly addictive. First, however, let’s not forget that alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable deaths in the US, after tobacco use and poor diet.
Why is Alcohol Addictive?
Alcohol addiction is a multifaceted issue; no single cause leads a person to become addicted to alcohol. In most cases, various factors combine to produce and maintain alcoholism in a person. First, let’s discuss why alcohol can be so addictive.
Physical Factors: The Release of Endorphins
One factor that makes alcohol addictive concerns its effect on the human brain. Drinking alcohol causes the brain to release dopamine, a chemical known as a pleasure neurotransmitter; when the brain releases dopamine, it causes a sensation of pleasure.
This could lead to feelings of joy, elation, reduced stress, and lower anxiety levels. Drinking alcohol on occasion s moderate to high levels of dopamine. However, as a person drinks increasingly more alcohol regularly, the brain and brain chemistry change.
With prolonged excessive alcohol consumption, the brain begins producing less of its own dopamine. This causes a reduction of dopamine receptors in the brain while simultaneously increasing the number of opioid receptors; the more alcohol a person drinks regularly, the brain produces less of this pleasure chemical on its own.
To achieve that dopamine rush, a person must drink increasingly more alcohol – a vicious cycle. The more they drink, the less dopamine they produce naturally, and the more they need to drink to achieve that same pleasant feeling. Most studies show that this is the root cause of alcoholism.
Genetic factors can lead to increased chances of becoming dependent on alcohol; some people are more predisposed to alcohol addiction than others. For example, some people’s brains release more pleasure chemicals when they drink alcohol than other people. Therefore, those who produce the highest dopamine and other pleasure chemicals are most likely to become alcohol dependent. This is why alcoholism is often seen as a disease.
Some people may be more prone to developing specific health issues; some people are more likely to become dependent on alcohol than others. In addition, genetic factors in an individual’s DNA play a role in addiction.
Although social factors are not the leading cause of alcohol addiction, they often play a role in the beginning phases. Dinner parties, gatherings with friends, and social events often involve alcohol. In many cases, drinking alcohol is expected of people.
For instance, if a person at a party does not drink, at least one person will likely ask them why they aren’t drinking. Drinking alcohol at gatherings is often expected and almost a requirement.
Although this does not lead to addiction, it plays a role in the process. The more a person feels pressured to drink, the more likely they will drink. Then, the genetic and brain chemical response factors come into play.
On that same note, many people have social anxiety and other related conditions. Since alcohol leads to feelings of pressure and stress reduction, people may drink at social gatherings to have an easier time conversing with others and reduce their social anxiety.
Many psychological factors can lead to alcoholism, such as depression and stress. However, albeit temporarily, alcohol reduces depression, stress, and anxiety.
Other mental conditions can lead to alcoholism, such as self-medication. Many people drink to self-medicate for a variety of mental conditions. For instance, studies show that roughly 22% of people with anxiety disorders use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.
Moreover, more than 20% of people with PTSD use alcohol and drugs to relieve those symptoms. If you find yourself self-medicating with alcohol, you may want to refer to a treatment option such as a 12 step program, rehab or counseling.
Whether one or a combination of the factors mentioned above of alcoholism are involved, alcohol is a highly addictive substance. If you are struggling with alcoholism, consider reaching out to your doctor, a counselor or attending a 12 step meeting. For some, Online Therapy might be a good option.
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