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How Addictive is Alcohol?

Alcohol addiction is a complex issue that affects millions of people worldwide. From the casual social drinker to those battling with a severe dependency, alcohol has the power to hijack the brain and create a vicious cycle that’s incredibly difficult to break free from. But what exactly is happening in the brain that leads to addiction?

In this article, we delve into the science behind alcohol addiction, exploring how it affects the brain and why it has become so prevalent. Through the latest research and understanding, we uncover the chemical reactions, neural pathways, and changes in brain structure that occur when alcohol is consumed. By unraveling the inner workings of addiction, we gain a deeper insight into why it’s so challenging to overcome.

Understanding the science behind alcohol addiction is the first step toward effective treatment and prevention. With this knowledge, we can develop targeted interventions and support systems to help individuals break free from the grip of addiction. Join us as we explore the astounding and sometimes alarming ways alcohol hijacks the brain, and how we can navigate the path to recovery.

Identifying the signs of alcohol abuse can be challenging if you are unfamiliar with how it occurs and its long-term effects. Alcoholism can be tricky to identify and can often be easily hidden by loved ones and family members. 

At Relevance Recovery, we can help you learn more about the signs of alcohol abuse. Learn more today with a confidential callback from an admissions expert. 

How Addictive is Alcohol? 

When it comes to determining how addictive alcohol is, it can be difficult to discern. Many individuals can drink regularly without developing a tolerance or dependence on the substance. However, this is not the same for all individuals. 

Alcohol is a substance considered safe for many people to enjoy but can be addictive if safety precautions are not taken while using the substance. In addition, individuals who do not follow the safety recommendations for their gender and weight may be at a higher risk of developing alcohol dependence. 

Alcohol use disorders occur across a spectrum of severity. Therefore, individuals can experience a range of symptoms and outcomes based on the severity of their disorder, which can impact the amount, length, and style of treatment necessary for rehabilitation.

Understanding the brain and addiction

To understand alcohol addiction, we must first understand the brain’s role in addiction. The brain is a complex organ responsible for regulating our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It’s comprised of billions of neurons that communicate with each other through chemical messengers called neurotransmitters.

When we consume alcohol, it enters the bloodstream and eventually reaches the brain. Once in the brain, alcohol affects the levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These neurotransmitters play a crucial role in regulating our mood, reward system, and inhibitory control.

What Factors Contribute to Alcohol Abuse?

While there are no singular factors that cause addiction to alcohol, there are many factors that can contribute to the development of the disorder. For example, individuals who misuse alcohol, individuals exposed to alcohol and addiction at a young age, genetics, and mental health can all increase the risk that an individual will develop a substance use disorder. 

Misusing alcohol is one of the most common contributing factors when talking to individuals about the development of their use disorder. Misusing alcohol includes binge drinking or drinking more than the recommended limits, drinking alcohol in combination with other drugs or contraindicated substances, and drinking illegally. Individuals drinking underage are at a much higher risk for developing an alcohol use disorder because they are drinking illegally and are more than likely not responsible for the amount consumed. In addition, repeated exposure can increase the likelihood of developing a disorder.

Individuals exposed to alcohol and addiction at a young age are more likely to develop a disorder because of their environment. This exposes children to irresponsible use and misuse early in their formative years and can impact how they view alcohol. While this is not a guarantee for each individual who grows up in this environment, studies have shown increased risk.

Additionally, if individuals exposed at a young age are exposed to alcohol by a genetically related parent, it can have a more severe impact. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “genetics play a role, with hereditability approximately 60 percent.” Parents’ drinking habits can impact how their child interacts with alcohol.

Finally, mental health is a significant factor in alcohol abuse. Individuals exposed to trauma, those suffering from a mood, personality, or anxiety disorder, and those with Attention-Deficit hyperactivity disorder are at a much higher risk of developing a substance use disorder. 

The reward system and alcohol addiction

One of the key factors in alcohol addiction is the brain’s reward system. The reward system is a complex network of brain regions that are responsible for reinforcing behaviors that are pleasurable and rewarding. When we engage in activities that are beneficial for our survival, such as eating or engaging in social interactions, the reward system releases dopamine, creating a sense of pleasure and reinforcing the behavior.

Alcohol hijacks the brain’s reward system by flooding it with dopamine, creating an intense and immediate sense of pleasure. This flood of dopamine reinforces the behavior of drinking, making it more likely that the individual will continue to seek out and consume alcohol. Over time, the brain becomes desensitized to the effects of alcohol, leading to a need for higher amounts to achieve the same level of pleasure.

What are the Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain?

The long-term effects of alcohol can be extreme. The impact on the brain is significantly damaging, in addition to its impact on the body’s overall health. The effects of alcohol can increase the risk of mental health extremes, impact memory, and alter personality.

Alcohol is a factor in about 30% of suicides, approximately 50% of fatal drowning and homicides, and “a significant number of sexual assaults involve alcohol use.” Additionally, as a depressant, alcohol can significantly impact the mental health of clients struggling with depression and other mood disorders.

Excessive alcohol use can also lead to alcohol-related blackouts. A blackout is a gap in a person’s memory from when they were drinking. This happens when a person drinks so much that their memories don’t transfer from short- to long-term memory storage. This is a direct impact that alcohol has on the hippocampus, the learning and memory center of the brain. 

Finally, long-term, alcohol consumption can impact an individual’s personality. Clinical studies of the impact of alcohol on an individual’s personality have come to conclusions indicating that “evidence changes in drinking behaviors but not personality may signify an elevated risk for relapse or sustained risk for associated problem behaviors.” This supports the idea that individuals ready to make a significant change in their health and well-being through sobriety also need to undergo a fundamental shift in their thinking.

The stages of alcohol addiction

Alcohol addiction is typically characterized by a progression of stages. The first stage is experimentation, where an individual may try alcohol out of curiosity or social pressure. This stage is often characterized by occasional and moderate alcohol consumption.

As the addiction progresses, the individual enters the second stage, known as regular use. Regular use involves more frequent alcohol consumption, often to cope with stress or negative emotions. During this stage, the individual may start to experience mild withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is not consumed.

The third stage is problematic use, where the individual’s alcohol consumption begins to interfere with their daily life and relationships. They may struggle to control their drinking and experience more severe withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit or cut back.

The final stage is dependence, where the individual becomes physically and psychologically reliant on alcohol. They may experience intense cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and a loss of control over their drinking. At this stage, professional help is often necessary to overcome the addiction.

How to Find Alcohol Addiction Treatment in New Jersey

Alcohol addiction treatment in New Jersey is available through Relevance Recovery. We offer a comprehensive addiction treatment facility to support clients with substance use disorders and comorbid mental health concerns. With multiple pathways for recovery, clients can access addiction treatment from detoxification through outpatient treatment. 

Additionally, we offer addiction services for teens and families and intervention support for family members of individuals struggling with substance abuse. Our drug addiction and mental health rehab center in NJ also supports specialized client groups, including first responders treatment. Speak with a professional at Relevance Recovery today to see how our top-rated rehab in Monmouth County can help you today.

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