Understanding How Alcohol Addiction Works

By James Madeiros


We’ve all heard the addictive properties of cigarettes. We’re told not to have a single one – they’re as addictive as heroine! Well, what about alcohol? What causes us to become addicted, and will simply drinking more lead us toward addiction?

Let’s start with alcohol tolerance. It’s true that the more we drink, the more we can drink, and then the more we have to drink in order to feel the euphoric effects of alcohol. This is due to an enzyme known as dehydrogenase, the MVP in our bodies’ fight to become more tolerant of alcohol. Dehydrogenase hastens the filtration of alcohol from the body and increases in response to more constant heavy drinking, enabling more regular drinkers to power through that first six-pack without batting a lash.

Alcohol also causes the secretion of dopamine, which affects the brain’s ability to experience pleasure and pain. When moderate drinkers consume alcohol they typically feel a slight increase of dopamine in their systems, and a complementary increase in emotional intensity that only subsides once they start to sober up.

The problem for chronic drinkers (and those on their way) is that as dopamine levels continue to increase with consumption, their bodies also develop more “transporters” that facilitate quicker absorption of dopamine. The increased amount of transporters remains constant after binging so that when the heavy boozer’s binge is over and his body begins producing normal levels of dopamine, less dopamine remains in the system due to its faster absorption. This leads to depression and a craving to drink more in order to bring dopamine up to “natural” levels. Thus, addiction to alcohol has occurred.

Compulsion to keep drinking doesn’t stop at dopamine. Withdrawal from alcohol is rated at the severest level among popular legal and illegal drugs. Once addiction sets in, it not only becomes biologically harder to stop, but more physically painful as well, coaxing the addict to continue drinking.

It should be noted there are a variety of other factors that affect one’s likelihood of alcohol addiction including genetic predispositions, gender and ethnicity; however, due to the fact that 28% of all Americans drink at levels that put them at risk for addiction, no one should feel exempt from taking a closer look at their consumption habits.

Of course, I should remind everyone that our blog entries are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, you should work with your medical professional to determine what’s best for you. If you’re going to drink, do it legally and responsibly; don’t be stupid =).

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