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Why is Alcohol Addictive?

July 1, 2021

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, almost 18 million people in the United States suffer from alcohol dependence and/or chronic alcohol abuse. Millions more engage in unhealthy binge drinking habits that have the potential to develop into alcoholism. If you know someone who has struggled with their alcohol use, you might know first hand how hard it can be, the problems it can create, and why seeking help is so hard.

IHAT is a treatment center that helps individuals deal with alcohol addiction. More information can be found here as well as how to get started. 

What makes alcohol so addictive, that people continue abusing it despite the known consequences? Let’s take a look, starting with a breakdown of both physical and psychological factors. 

Physical Factors

When a person consumes alcohol, it stimulates the release of dopamine and endorphins within their brain. These chemicals create euphoria and pleasure, as well as acting as a natural painkiller. For some people, their brains will release more pleasure chemicals in response to alcohol, which can influence physical dependency.

As a result, actual physical changes occur in the brain’s chemistry and functioning. The reward and pleasure centers become overloaded as the user experiences cravings to continue repeating those experiences. Even with a desire to discontinue use, the impact that alcohol has on decision making and impulse control may make that difficult, leading to repeated relapse.

Psychological Factors

Like many addictions, alcoholism is a learned behavior, where a person’s thoughts and beliefs play a role in what the possible outcomes can be. Developmental maturity, belief or disbelief in treatment, and environmental factors like their support system, stress, or work can all play a role.

Stress is one of the biggest factors in addiction. Alcohol provides a temporary escape from the daily problems of life, which can create an unhealthy cycle that is difficult to break. Stress-reduction can play an important role in the recovery process, as alcohol dependence can lead to a range of other psychiatric disorders like anxiety or mood disorder.

Alcohol Withdrawal

As alcohol can create both psychological and physical dependencies, these also manifest as withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop. Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures

The level of withdrawal symptoms that a person experiences will vary from person to person, with determining factors including the level of dependency, how long they have been dependent, and genetic factors.

Most symptoms have a timeline of when they will present themselves as well as when they will be the most severe.

For severe cases, the first 6 hours may present symptoms like anxiety, shaky hands, vomiting, and sweating. 12 to 48 hours after the last drink, more serious problems become evident as the person may experience hallucinations and seizures. From 48 to 72 hours, some of the most severe symptoms may manifest, including delirium tremens. Although they only occur in about 5% of people with alcohol withdrawal, they include vivid hallucinations and delusions. Other symptoms in this timeframe include confusion, high blood pressure, and heavy sweating.

Alcohol addiction, and subsequently alcohol withdrawal, is something that needs to be taken seriously. The best outcome will be with the help of a medical professional.

IHAT can help you through your recovery journey. If you or a loved one are facing alcohol addiction, please contact us today to schedule a call to learn more information.


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