Mind & Body
The Addictive Properties of Alcohol
World-wide, alcohol is the most highly consumed addictive substance. While not everyone who drinks will develop a dependence to it, alcohol does have very highly addictive properties and many will find themselves craving more and more to satiate their thirst.
Why can alcohol be so addictive?
In order to understand why alcohol is such an addictive substance, it is first important to look at how the brain works. In our brain we have different chemicals that are responsible for different functions. One such chemical, called GABA is essentially responsible for calming down the brain and reducing excitability. When drinking alcohol, GABA production increases. This explains why people who are intoxicated often move slower, slur their speech and have difficulty walking and performing everyday tasks. As the body begins to produce more GABA, it realizes that the levels of these chemicals are getting much higher than they should be so to compensate, it begins to produce another chemical called glutamate. Glutamate counteracts the effects of GABA and helps to bring the body back to a state of equilibrium. The more frequently someone drinks, the faster the body produces glutamate and the feelings of being “drunk” don’t last as long. This tolerance will continue to build up overtime, meaning that someone must continue to increase the amount that they drink in order to continue to feel its effects.
Alcohol increases the amount of dopamine found in the brain and increases endorphin levels as well. These chemicals are responsible for creating feelings of euphoria, pleasure, happiness and reducing pain. When people drink, they begin to associate consuming alcohol with feeling good. This in turn encourages them to drink more and more until they find themselves at the point where they don’t feel good unless they have had an alcoholic drink.
Recovering from alcohol addiction
Recovering from an addiction can be a difficult and painful process as the body tries to cope without alcohol in it’s system. The chemicals in the brain try to go back to normal levels and this can cause certain withdrawal symptoms to occur. A person may experience shaking, tremors, hallucinations, nausea, vomiting, fever and even seizures. These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days, up to a few weeks. Fortunately there are some medications that can help to reduce these symptoms and make withdrawal easier to cope with. There are also medications that can help to decrease the cravings for alcohol as well. The proper prescription medications, behavioural modification therapies, counselling and group therapy sessions combined with time, patience, effort and will power can greatly increase the chances of one’s success in combating their addiction.