Alcohol is the most widely abused drug in the United States. Nearly 14 million adults, or one in every 13 people, abuse alcohol or have an alcohol problem. This is a startling number! In addition, many other people partake in alcohol consumption, increasing the chances for risky behavior, alcohol dependency and alcohol addiction. Teenagers are also at risk, as over three million kids ages 14 to 17 have alcohol problems as well.
With alcohol consuming so many Americans’ lives, what is it about this drug that makes it so appealing? Is it because alcohol is legal for adults and widely accessible to people of all ages? Is it because alcohol has unique properties that change brain chemistry?
Below we explore the many reasons why alcohol is the drug of choice in America.
Neurotransmitters in the Brain
Ethanol, the type of alcohol inside adult beverages, is not addictive on its own. Instead, it becomes addictive when it causes chemical reactions in the brain. Neurotransmitters – chemicals responsible for delivering messages from nerve cell to nerve cell – are responsible for these chemical reactions.
Here are the neurotransmitters involved in alcohol addiction.
- GABA. Gamma-aminobutyric acid is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that calms the brain down. Alcohol increases GABA, which is why people have trouble walking, talking and remembering things when they are drunk. Even a little bit of alcohol increases GABA, though the effects are more pronounced the more alcohol a person drinks.
- Dopamine. Dopamine is another neurotransmitter that is responsible for pleasure. It plays a role in any of the activities that we find pleasurable, such as eating, sleeping and having sex. Alcohol raises dopamine levels in the brain, which is why people feel good when they drink.
- Endorphins. Endorphins are molecules produced by the central nervous system. They release naturally in the body to combat pain. However, they’re also produced by other activities like exercise, laughing and drinking alcohol. The more endorphins release from drinking, the more pleasurable it feels.
With so many neurotransmitters being released in the brain, it’s understandable why alcohol is addictive to so many people. Sadly, the brain is eventually tricked into thinking that an intoxicated state is normal, making it crave the rush of pleasure. This starts a person on the path of tolerance, dependency and addiction.
Genetics and its Effect on Alcoholism
It’s apparent that there’s a lot going on in our brains when we drink. But, we can’t overlook other reasons why alcohol is addictive. According to The American Society of Addictions Medicine, genetics account for about half the likelihood that a person will develop an alcohol problem. This is a big number!
Through research, we know that people can inherit a genetic predisposition to alcoholism, much like the same genes responsible for your hair and eye color. This predisposition does not mean that you will become addicted. It only means that you are more likely to feel pleasure from alcohol. Staying away from alcohol and developing healthy ways to manage stress are the best ways to prevent addiction.
Social and Environmental Factors
So far, we’ve talked about alcohol’s effect on the brain. But, there are other reasons why alcohol is addictive to some individuals. Below are the most common motivations for abusing alcohol.
- Stress. When people feel stress, they look for ways to deal with it. Some people perceive alcohol to be a way to relieve stress, so they drink their problems away. In reality, alcohol causes its own stress.
- Mental health issues. There is a strong link between addiction and mental health disorders. People who have untreated depression, anxiety or PTSD have a higher risk for alcoholism because they may self-medicate with the drug.
- Drinking at a young age. The earlier you start drinking, the higher the risk for becoming an alcoholic. Compared to people who start drinking around 21, those who start drinking before age 15 are twice as likely to abuse alcohol and four times more likely to develop a dependency.
- Peer pressure. Teens and preteens are under incredible pressure to fit in with their peers. If their friends pressure them into drinking, this could sway their decision and set them up for addiction later in life.
- Accessibility. Because alcohol is legal, it’s accessible to people regardless of their age. Alcohol can be found in homes and at family gatherings, barbecues, restaurants, nightclubs, movie theaters, resorts – pretty much everywhere.
- Trauma. Trauma lives inside the body. People who have unresolved trauma are more likely to self-medicate to deal with the pain. Due to its accessibility and acceptedness in society, alcohol is a quick and easy drug to turn to.
As you can see, alcohol addiction is complex and involves many factors. What we do know is that alcohol is highly addictive, though some people are more at risk than others depending on their biology and lifestyle.
Outpatient Treatment & Recovery from Alcohol Addiction
You can treat an alcohol addiction through medication, counseling and aftercare. Recovery can take a long time, especially because alcohol is accessible and socially acceptable. While you can make good choices to avoid temptation, it’s not practical to think that you can avoid alcohol entirely.
This is why alcohol outpatient treatment in Phoenix is highly encouraged, as it provides support and structure as you transition into your everyday life. You can continue working, going to school or raising your family while working your program.
To partake in an outpatient program, you will have to be sober. Most people go to a hospital or treatment center to manage their withdrawal effects. You should never detox from alcohol on your own because you can suffer fatal side effects like seizures and delirium tremens.
To start holistic outpatient alcohol treatment, contact Continuum Recovery Center today. We have a full continuum of care that includes counseling, holistic healing practices and medication management. Start your journey with us today.