Alcohol is everywhere — at social gatherings, sporting events, office parties, and people’s homes. For many people, drinking can be simply a relaxing or fun experience. Unfortunately, however, it can also become very addictive — it’s one of the most addictive substances, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
Why is alcohol addictive? Why can some people stop after one or two drinks while others can’t control their alcohol intake and develop a debilitating alcohol dependence? Learn about some of the factors that lead to alcohol addiction.
Table of contents 1. Physical Factors 2. Psychological Factors 3. Why Is Alcohol Addictive for Some People and Not Others?
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Certain physical factors can make alcohol addictive. For starters, alcohol causes the brain to release chemicals known as endorphins and dopamine, which stimulate the brain’s pleasure centres while also numbing its pain centres. These chemicals can make a person feel happy and content and not feel pain. A person may keep drinking to continue feeling good, and in this way, drinking can become addictive. Essentially, people are addicted to the way alcohol makes them feel and may experience cravings due to the effect that alcohol has on the brain.
The release of endorphins and dopamine often accumulates in other areas of the brain, particularly the parts of the brain associated with addiction. While alcohol stimulates certain brain structures, it also tends to shut down the areas that control impulse control and decision-making abilities.
People who might be sensible and cautious when sober may be much less so when drinking. They might take more risks or make poor decisions, including deciding to drink more when they’ve already had enough. As they continue drinking, they increase their chances of becoming addicted. Sometimes, alcohol can even change the brain’s chemistry and how the brain works, according to the NIAAA.
Unfortunately, alcohol abuse can become something of a vicious circle. The more a person drinks, the more the brain releases endorphins and dopamine. The more these chemicals get released, the happier and more satisfied people will feel when drinking. The more of a high they experience from the alcohol, the more they want to keep drinking heavily. This cycle makes addiction much more likely.
Psychological factors can also make alcohol addictive. For example, how mature someone is can influence whether someone abuses alcohol or develops an addiction. If someone has emotional or psychological issues, these conditions increase the likelihood of becoming addicted to alcohol. Even a person’s personal beliefs may come into play, such as one’s outlook on drinking in general or likes and dislikes.
Since drinking is a part of most social activities, social factors are often involved in alcohol abuse or addiction. If someone is susceptible to peer pressure, the person may drink when hanging out with other people who are also doing so. Someone uncomfortable in social situations may have too much to drink to feel more relaxed or be the life of the party. Many people consume alcohol in large quantities because it’s available to them in certain social situations — for example, an open bar at a wedding.
Stress is perhaps one of the most significant contributors to alcohol addiction. People often drink to cope with stress or anxiety. Alcohol can temporarily numb their negative feelings and make them forget their worries. As discussed above, people usually feel happier and free from worries when they are drinking alcohol. They may also become more confident, social, and talkative. They lose their inhibitions and their fears.
Many people ultimately become addicted to alcohol when they have a lot of stress or other problems in their lives and regularly turn to alcohol as their solution to coping with stress.
Why Is Alcohol Addictive for Some People and Not Others?
Every person has a different genetic makeup, relationships, and experiences. No two people are affected by alcohol in the same way or for the same reasons. Not everybody has the same likelihood of developing an addiction. A range of genetic, social, and environmental factors can affect how people deal with alcohol and whether one individual over another becomes addicted to alcohol.
For example, genetics can affect how someone’s brain reacts to alcohol consumption. Individuals whose brains release more endorphins and dopamine when they consume alcohol are more likely to become addicted to alcohol. Researchers have conducted studies that show that a part of the brain, the lateral habenula, processes reward versus punishment.
Suppose people feel rewarded from drinking without suffering any consequences. In this case, they are more likely to drink excessively than others whose brains are more focused on punishment, according to a Healthline report.
Genetics can also influence a person’s tendency toward developing mental illness, and people with mental disorders can have an increased risk of addiction. Whether they’re born with it or learn it, how much self-control individuals demonstrate significantly affects their likelihood of developing an addiction. According to the NIAAA, even race and gender can be factors in addiction. These elements influence how different people metabolize alcohol, how much tolerance they have, and how likely they will drink to excess.
Environmental factors such as poverty, violence, experiencing trauma, home environments, and family life also contribute to why one person might develop an addiction while another would not. How social people are and how often they find themselves around alcohol in social settings can also influence addiction to alcohol. Finally, someone who may be lonely, bored, or lacking access to positive activities that don’t involve drinking alcohol is more likely to turn to using alcohol regularly to pass the time. As a result of this behaviour, the individual may eventually become addicted to alcohol, according to a Psychology Today article.
The Canadian Centre for Addictions (CCFA) Is Here to Help
If you or someone you love is addicted to alcohol, you don’t have to deal with alcohol addiction alone. The Canadian Centre for Addictions (CCFA) offers a full range of quality services that give our clients flexible therapy and counselling for drug and alcohol addiction. Contact us now to learn more about our addiction program.