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Why is Alcohol so Addictive?

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What Makes Alcohol so Addictive?

Alcohol use disorder is a condition that involves a strong and compulsive desire to consume alcohol even when the person is already suffering from its adverse effects.

What Makes Alcohol Addictive?, What Causes a Person to Become an Alcoholic?​, What are 5 Factors that Could Lead to Alcohol Dependence?, Who is Most at Risk for Alcoholism?, Why Do Men Drink?, What Does Alcohol Do to a Man’s Body?, What Diseases are Associated with Alcoholism?, Rehab is Your Best Chance


Out of all the potentially addictive and harmful substances out there, alcohol is the most commonly abused. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), around 17.6 million people in the United States suffer from alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcohol dependence. That is about one in twelve adults.

To make matters worse, there are a lot more people who are engaging in risky or excessive alcohol consumption. These people are also at risk of developing a drinking problem that can eventually lead to alcoholism.

Alcohol use disorder is a condition that involves a strong and compulsive desire to consume alcohol even when the person is already suffering from its adverse effects. Despite the consequences, the alcoholic individual will keep on drinking. An alcoholic is therefore someone whose persistent alcohol consumption has had a negative impact on their life. The term ‘alcoholic’ itself is no longer being used because of its negative and discriminatory message. The stigma surrounding alcoholism actually prevents many people from reaching out and seeking the professional help that they need.

The first step in addressing this problem is discussing alcohol use disorder and its causes. The more we understand about this condition, the easier it becomes to help those who are struggling with it.

But what exactly makes alcohol so addictive? The problem is so widespread that some people wonder if there is something in alcohol that makes it addictive.

We know that alcohol is widely accepted as a social lubricant—a way for people to bond with reduced inhibitions and anxiety. Drinking is a social and recreational activity for many, even if it is also widely known that alcohol can be addictive and dangerous.

Alcohol use disorder is a complex medical condition. In fact, it is not completely understood why people develop it. What we do know is that it is a combination of many different factors including physical, psychological, and even social factors.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol use disorder or alcohol addiction, look for a treatment facility near you today. But first, let’s take a closer look at the causes of alcohol addiction.


What Makes Alcohol Addictive?

There are physical and psychological factors that make alcohol as addictive as it is. Starting with the physical factors, drinking alcohol can lead to changes in the brain’s chemistry as well as its functioning. Alcohol stimulates the release of dopamine within the brain, along with endorphins. These chemicals produce the pleasant sensations that we experience when we do something that benefits the body or something we enjoy. This is the brain’s reward center, and alcohol activates it.

Some people’s brains release more of these “pleasure chemicals” when they consume alcohol. This makes them more susceptible to alcoholism and dependence. It is possible for the brain’s reward center to become overloaded because of substances like alcohol and drugs. When this happens, the person craves for the substances because they want to repeat those pleasant experiences.

There is also a psychological aspect because alcoholism, like other addictions, is a learned behavior. The person’s thoughts and beliefs also factor in. This means someone who does not believe in treatment is less likely to stick with a proper addiction treatment program.

But even when the person intends to stop, alcohol can make it difficult for them to do so. It makes people more impulsive. It also clouds their judgment and makes it difficult to make good decisions. As the person continues drinking, their body begins to become tolerant of the substance, which means they need to drink more just to experience the same euphoric effects.

Eventually, they begin to feel like they couldn’t function normally without drinking. This stage is called alcohol dependence. An alcohol dependent individual will go through withdrawal if they suddenly stop drinking. This is why medical detox is necessary: a rehab program that offers detox can provide a safe and comfortable environment where the patient can focus on their recovery. Their withdrawal symptoms and cravings will be monitored and managed by medical professionals, usually using medications. During this time, their alcohol intake will be gradually lowered.



What Causes a Person to Become an Alcoholic?​

Now that we have established that alcohol itself is addictive because of its interactions with the brain, particularly its reward center, it’s time to address the other side of the story: the reasons why people abuse alcohol.

Some people drink in order to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. They drink to improve their self-esteem, especially during social situations. There are also those who drink in order to bond with other people and feel a sense of belonging. They don’t want to feel out of place, especially when everyone else is drinking, and so they drink too.

Alcohol abuse may also stem from a history of physical, mental, or sexual abuse. There are many other factors that can contribute to a person’s likelihood of becoming an alcoholic in the future. Having their first alcoholic drink at an early age, having a family history of AUD, being exposed to peer pressure, and experiencing traumatic or painful situations are examples of this.

These are the so-called risk factors of alcoholism. Usually, it is a combination of several different factors that push a person towards alcoholism. The more risk factors a person is exposed to, the more likely they are to become an alcoholic. However, this is not a guarantee of future alcohol problems. It is only an indicator of a person’s level of exposure to the risk of alcoholism.


What are 5 Factors that Could Lead to Alcohol Dependence?

It is important to remember that there is usually no singular cause of alcoholism. Even just one person suffering from alcoholism may be exposed to multiple risk factors that are contributing to the problem.

People have different experiences in life, and so the causes of alcohol abuse are varied. People also go through addiction differently. Two people drinking the same amount of alcohol at the same time may experience different effects. This same principle applies to people who develop alcoholism. Addicted individuals may suffer from different health effects and may require different types of treatment.

That said, when it comes to the potential causes of alcohol use disorder and alcohol dependence, there are common factors that typically lead to them.

Genetics plays a role in it. Many studies suggest that it is the single most impactful thing when it comes to whether or not someone develops alcoholism. Those with parents who are alcoholics are significantly more likely to become alcoholics, whether they are raised by alcoholics or not. However, the genetics behind alcoholism are extremely complex and yet to be understood.

There are also environmental factors. The environment in which a person resides plays a role in the development of alcoholism. For example, there are some countries wherein it is much more difficult and expensive to acquire alcohol than in others. Because of less access, the chances of developing alcoholism are lower in these countries. Similarly, a person who grows up in a household where access to alcohol is limited is less likely to become an alcoholic than someone who is more often exposed.

Psychological factors, such as the presence of mental health conditions like depression, social anxiety, and bipolar disorder can contribute to the development of alcoholism. Individuals with these psychological illnesses may turn to alcohol as a way to cope with their condition. This is particularly common among those who have not yet been diagnosed.

There are other personal factors that make some people more prone to alcohol abuse than others. Some personalities are more likely to develop alcoholism than others. For instance, those who are risk takers or like to be the life of the party are more likely to participate in heavy drinking or binge drinking. Binge drinking is the excessive consumption of alcohol within a short period of time. Some people with extreme shyness may also use alcohol in order to reduce their discomfort and be more “likeable” while drunk.

A person’s expectations towards drinking may also influence alcohol’s effects. Someone who expects to have a positive experience with alcohol is more likely to enjoy drinking. This may lead to regular consumption of large amounts of alcohol, which can develop into a serious problem down the line.

The final factor is personal choice. It’s not entirely a matter of willpower, and an alcoholic individual cannot just quit drinking out of the blue. But at the end of the day, alcoholism has some aspects of personal choice.

If someone decides to never drink again, they are not likely to develop alcoholism. The same goes for someone who avoids social scenarios where they might have to drink. On the other hand, someone who participates in binge drinking is at high risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.

Who is Most at Risk for Alcoholism?

Aside from the risk factors mentioned above, there are other factors that put certain individuals at greater risk for alcoholism. For example, there are age factors that influence the likelihood of alcohol abuse. People typically start drinking in their late teens to their early twenties. Alcohol use then peaks in their mid to late twenties.

By the time people reach their early thirties, alcohol consumption tends to slow down. This means those who are in their early to mid-twenties are most likely to develop alcohol use disorders. The younger they start drinking, the higher the likelihood of developing a drinking problem.

People with a higher degree of education are also more likely to consume and abuse alcohol. 80% of college graduates in the United States drink while only 52% of individuals with no college education drink.

In terms of career, there are certain professions that are more likely to develop alcoholism than others. This is especially true for those in industries that are highly stressful such as the military. This also applies to professions that are mostly made up of younger adults.

As for more generalized risk factors, men tend to consume more alcohol than women, but because of body composition, women tend to suffer more from the same amount of alcohol. For men, consuming more than 15 drinks per week is considered problematic drinking. For women, problematic drinking is 12 drinks per week.

Those who participate in binge drinking are more likely to develop alcoholism than those who drink moderately.

Other risk factors include having a family member with a substance abuse problem, having a mental health condition, having low self-esteem, going through a significant life change such as the loss of a loved one, and experiencing high levels of stress.

Why Do Men Drink?

Speaking of men drinking more than women, some family members may be wondering why this is such a common problem. Almost 59% of adult men report drinking alcohol in the past 30 days, while only 47% of adult women did so. In addition to this highly concerning statistic, men are also two times more likely to binge drink than women. So it begs the question: why do men drink so much?

The biological differences between men and women is part of the answer. Men’s bodies simply tolerate larger amounts of alcohol due to lower body fat ratios than women. Alcohol is stored in body fat, and so men have to drink more just to feel the effects of the substance. Additionally, men’s bodies produce more of the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme, which breaks down alcohol before it reaches the bloodstream.

Beyond that, there are psychological and social factors at play. What motivates your loved one to drink may be different from other men, but it usually stems from a combination of these physical, psychological, and social factors.

Decades of marketing has increased drastically over the years, bringing more and more awareness to various brands of alcohol. It also promotes social drinking as part of culture and as a way for people to celebrate, bond, and have a good time.

This culture of drinking also leads to peer pressure, as men are almost expected to drink socially on a more frequent basis than women. Men may be pressured by their colleagues to drink, no matter what industry they are in. Because they want to protect their reputation, some men drink even if they don’t want to.

This also relates to the culture of toxic masculinity that is a result of years of ideologies about how men should behave. It is a common belief that men need to be macho, tough, emotionless, and hard. But because men go through stress too, they look for ways to cope without compromising that tough façade that they have to put on. This is where alcohol comes in.

Men can also struggle with mental health problems like anxiety and depression, which can lead to alcohol abuse.

What Does Alcohol Do to a Man’s Body?

Men have higher rates of alcohol-related hospitalizations compared to women. This is because alcohol is associated with things like violence, injury, and traffic accidents. In fact, almost three-quarters of deaths in the US related to excessive drinking are among males, with about 68,000 deaths each year.

Among drivers in fatal motor vehicle crashes, men are 50% more likely to have been under the influence of alcohol compared with women.

Alcohol also tends to affect people’s judgment, increase aggression, and reduce inhibitions. This increases the chances of men starting fights or assaulting other people—not because they are unaware of their actions but because alcohol makes them care less about the consequences.

Drinking alcohol also increases the risk of prostate cancer, along with other types of cancer such as throat, mouth, esophagus, colon, and liver.

Studies also suggest that alcohol may affect a man’s sexual and reproductive health. Excessive alcohol consumption may interfere with male hormone function as well as testicular function, which leads to erectile dysfunction and infertility.

What Diseases are Associated with Alcoholism?

Regularly consuming large amounts of alcohol is harmful to your health. This is something most people know. But those who are addicted to alcohol will keep on drinking despite the consequences. Addiction is characterized by the compulsive need for alcohol even when the person is already suffering from its adverse effects. If you don’t quit alcohol or seek help for your alcohol use disorder, you will be exposing yourself to a lot of serious health problems associated with alcohol.

Alcohol consumption doesn’t have to be a long-term habit for it to cause significant damage to a person’s body. Even a single episode of binge drinking can lead to serious harm or even death. Alcohol is notorious for its connection with vehicular accidents. Because alcohol impairs judgment and affects mood, drunk drivers can easily get into accidents, which can sometimes be fatal. They can even harm other people who are sharing the road.

Long-term abuse can also lead to several chronic diseases and other serious health problems like liver disease.

Liver disease is common among those who have alcohol use disorder because alcohol is metabolized in the liver. Alcoholic liver disease is influenced by the amount of alcohol consumed as well as the duration of abuse. The more you drink, the more you are exposed to the risk of developing liver disease.

Another chronic disease associated with alcoholism is pancreatitis. It involves a painful inflammation of the pancreas and often requires hospitalization. Around 70% of cases of pancreatitis involve people who drink large amounts of alcohol regularly.

Cancer is another possibility, with chronic alcohol consumption increasing the risk of different cancers. It is possible for alcoholic individuals to develop cancers of the mouth, larynx, liver, stomach, esophagus, colon, breast, and rectum.

As alcohol passes through the digestive system, heavy drinking increases the likelihood of developing acid reflux, stomach ulcers, heartburn, gastritis, and other gastrointestinal problems. If alcohol damages the digestive system, it can cause serious internal bleeding. In fact, alcohol damages the gastrointestinal tract significantly.

Alcohol abuse also affects the brain, causing blurred vision, slurred speech, memory lapses, and difficulty walking. Alcohol affects mood, memory, emotions, and cognitive functions on multiple levels.

No matter what the cause of alcoholism, it is very important that you receive proper treatment for it.

While it’s not easy to beat alcoholism, especially if you have been drinking for a very long time, it is possible to regain your sobriety. Rehab will teach you healthy coping mechanisms so you can stay sober even once you are out of the facility. Get started on your journey to long-lasting sobriety today.


Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.

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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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