Millions, if not billions of people across the world drink alcohol on a regular basis. Many of these people do so without any issues or severe consequences. So why is alcohol addictive and why do only some people struggle with this addiction?
Alcohol’s Addictive Nature
Some people claim that alcoholism is a genetic disease passed down from parents to their children, the same way eye color is. Others claim that it is a learned behavior brought on from peer pressure or from the media and movies. We have even heard a claim that alcoholism is “the devil inside of you”. Although we are not sure there is any proof on that last claim, we can confirm that alcohol is addictive for a number of reasons. The factors that have been studied and shown to influence the development of alcohol use disorders are physiological, psychological, behavioral, and social.
Alcohol has a direct effect on the brain, and in turn, has a physiological effect on individuals who consume it. More specifically, alcohol stimulates the release of dopamine and endorphins. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with producing feelings of pleasure and endorphins are the body’s natural painkiller. Stimulating the reward centers of the brain, alcohol becomes rewarding on a physiological level. This physically encourages the use of alcohol.
Long term heavy alcohol use can actually lead to changes in the brain’s physiology. One scientifically proven change is a decrease in dopamine receptors. This happens over time to accommodate the increase in the release of dopamine neurotransmitters and is the brain’s way of adapting to heavy alcohol use. Eventually, the physical dependence on alcohol develops and the individual may try to stop drinking, but fails due to the onset of withdrawal symptoms. Another reason they may fail to stop drinking is that one of the first withdrawal symptoms to develop is actually cravings. These are some of the exact qualifications for an alcohol use disorder.
Behavioral & Social Factors
Alcoholism does not develop unless the individual tries alcohol. Someone who does not have access to a substance physically cannot develop an addiction to it. Unfortunately, alcohol is possibly the most widely available substance in the United States. It is sold in grocery stores, gas stations, sporting events, and even online. Major life events are celebrated by raising a glass filled with alcohol and social gatherings are often centered around alcohol consumption. Heck, we have even developed the term “social drinker” to describe someone who specifically drinks alcohol to be social. When you combine the physiological aspects of alcohol with its wide presence, is it any wonder that millions of American’s struggle with this disease?
There are a lot of other social factors that play into developing an alcohol use disorder. For one, have you ever heard the phrase “It’s been a long day… I need a drink.”? Or maybe you’ve seen in movies where after a stressful meeting, a businessman goes back to his office and pours a finger (or 3) of scotch. As mentioned earlier, alcohol can trigger a sense of pleasure. This allows the substance to provide a temporary solution for stressful situations. Our society has taught us that alcohol is a go-to remedy even though there are much healthier ways to deal with stress, such as taking a walk, meditating, and deep breathing. Drinking alcohol as a method to cope with stress or anxiety can become a habit, and habits are difficult to break. Additionally, alcohol impairs your ability to make sound decisions. Unfortunately, alcohol use as a coping mechanism can lead to a dangerous spiral and possibly addiction.
Why Only Some People Struggle with Alcoholism
Now, if we are all human and we all live in the same society, then why do only some people struggle with alcohol use? Well, there actually are differences between each of in terms of both nature and nurture. On a biological level, our genes, sex, weight, diet, and so many other factors can affect how our body and brain process alcohol. Additionally, the way we grow up influences our access to and outlook on alcohol. No one factor can determine for sure if an individual will develop an alcohol use disorder, but these are all risk factors that can predict the likelihood of struggling with the disease.
Take Control of Your Fate
Even though alcohol is an addictive substance on a physiological and psychological level, we ultimately can have power over our own fate. Understanding why alcohol is addictive can help set the foundation for preventing the development of addiction. Additionally, someone who does struggle with alcohol addiction does not have to succumb to the substance indefinitely. Those struggling with why they are addicted to alcohol can get help from a professional addiction treatment program. Get started today!