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Why is Alcohol Addictive?

Why is Alcohol Addictive?

Alcohol is currently the most commonly abused substance of abuse in the United States, but why is alcohol addictive?

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), 17.6 million Americans, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence.1 There are also several million people who engage in binge drinking that could lead to alcoholism. Additionally, more than half of all adults have family histories of alcoholism or drinking problems, and over 7 million children grow up in households where at least one parent suffers from alcohol dependence.1If you or someone you know has ever dealt with alcohol dependence, then you may understand how difficult it can be to recover from this disorder. Our drug rehabilitation center is explaining why alcohol is addictive and ways to combat it.

What Is Alcohol Addiction?

Also referred to as alcoholism, drinking addiction, and alcohol use disorder, alcohol addiction refers to the inability to manage your drinking habits. Alcoholism is organized into three categories: mild, moderate, and severe. People with alcohol addictions often feel like they can’t live without drinking. Once they’ve become physically dependent on alcohol, they may find themselves struggling to get through the day without a drink or several. This can lead to a range of physical problems and impact their careers and personal relationships.

It’s also important to note that alcoholism is a real disease, and many people with this condition require the help of alcohol withdrawal treatment to quit. Alcohol is also one of the most difficult substances to withdraw from, making a medical detox offered at several of our drug rehab centers crucial for recovery. Drinking addiction can and does occur in people of all ages, from children to the elderly.

Some risk factors for alcohol dependence you should look out for include:

  • Having more than 15 drinks per week for men, or more than 12 drinks per week for women
  • Having more than 5 drinks every day at least once a week (otherwise known as binge drinking)
  • Having a parent with alcoholism or a family history of it
  • A mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or schizophrenia
  • Peer pressure
  • Low self-esteem
  • High-stress levels
  • Live in a family or culture where alcohol use is common and accepted

If you’re struggling with your drinking habits, don’t wait until it’s too late to get help. Our inpatient drug treatment at Banyan Treatment Centers offers a safe environment where you’re separated from the distractions and temptations so you can focus on getting better.

What Makes Alcohol Addictive?

So, why is alcohol so addictive? Alcohol is addictive because it stimulates the release of dopamine and endorphins in the brain, producing side effects like sedation, euphoria, and relaxation. These chemicals are designed to produce pleasure and satisfaction, as well as act as natural painkillers. As a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, alcohol inhibits overall brain activity by increasing the signaling of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, and drugs that increase GABA levels are usually used as sedatives, muscle relaxers, and anti-anxiety medications. Increased GABA signaling is the reason why people who drink a lot of alcohol have slurred speech, difficulties walking, and experience memory loss and blackouts.

Some people are more prone to alcohol addiction because of genetic factors. Specifically, some people’s brains release more pleasure chemicals when they drink alcohol, making them more susceptible to repeating the act and becoming physically dependent. Alcohol use can also change the brain’s chemistry and functioning. If you drink alcohol often enough, your brain will adapt to the increased inhibition by increasing excitatory signaling with chemicals like glutamate. Glutamate works against GABA to increase brain cell activity or firing rate. Over time, this repeated action causes tolerance, meaning the person will have to drink more and more to experience the same side effects they previously experienced from alcohol.

Moreover, alcohol increases the release of endorphins in the brain, which are natural chemicals that activate opioid receptors and cause relaxation and euphoria. The sense of reward or pleasure that a person experiences from this process can encourage further alcohol abuse. Casual and heavy drinkers may initially experience the relaxing or numbing effects of alcohol. However, these feelings are often accompanied by other undesirable reactions, such as impaired thinking, slurred speech, impaired judgment, liver problems, and more.

Being addicted to alcohol can cause a variety of problems in the long run. Oftentimes, people find it difficult to quit without the help of drug treatment programs due to the psychological reasons behind their drinking. For instance, many people turn to alcohol when they’re dealing with a lot of stress. They may also be struggling to cope with a mental illness and may use alcohol to self-medicate. Regardless of the reason behind someone’s drinking addiction, this disease can become life-threatening.

If you’re interested in alcohol treatment for yourself or a loved one, call Banyan Treatment Centers today at 888-280-4763 to learn how we can help. We have several drug rehab facilities across the nation that provide levels of addiction care that can help you get sober.


  1. NCADD - Facts About Alcohol

Related Readings:

  • The Dangers of Mixing Shrooms and Alcohol
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Why is Alcohol Addictive?
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