Most of us are aware of the dangers of alcohol and how addictive it can be. Rarely, however, do we ask why. To answer the question, what makes alcohol so addictive, we must first answer how people become addicted in the first place.

Article at a Glance:  

  • Alcohol creates a “high” that is often accompanied by social activities, at least initially.  
  • Eventually, people begin to feel “not normal” without alcohol in their systems.  
  • Alcohol releases endorphins in the brain that are connected to reward processing.  
  • People develop a tolerance for alcohol, making the “high” more difficult to achieve.  
  • Addiction can result from the psychological triggers of drinking alcohol.  

How Does Alcohol Become Addictive

Alcohol consumption is usually a social activity. People drink because their friends, coworkers, and family are drinking. Therein lies the problem; Drinking produces a sort of “high” that we begin craving. Whether it’s the feeling of fitting in, being the center of attention, forgetting about their problems for a while, or simply numbing any pain you feel, those feelings can become addictive.

The more you feed into these feelings by drinking, the higher your tolerance levels get. This begins a vicious cycle of needing more and more alcohol to reach the level that you’re used to.

How Alcohol Affects The Brain and Leads to Dependence (Video)

Physical and Psychological Addiction to Alcohol

If a person continues the pattern of drinking heavily to reach a familiar level, eventually, they will begin to not feel ‘normal’ without some alcohol. This is known as a psychological addiction because the act of drinking alcohol becomes habitual and they need it in order to feel good or like their normal selves. Physical addiction occurs once a person is unable to stop drinking without experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, which include anxiety, shakiness, and on the more extreme end, seizures severe shaking, confusion, and hallucinations.

This physical and psychological addiction stems from the effect that alcohol has on the brain. In a 2012 study, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco found that drinking alcohol releases endorphins in two areas of the brain that are associated with reward processing. This study also concluded that people who identified as “heavy” drinkers had a higher release of these feel good chemicals.

That is truly the core of why alcohol is so addictive. It hits, at the chemical level, multiple areas in the brain. And it hits at a psychological level, leaving the person unable to function without it. As we’ve discussed, the higher tolerance makes the “high” that is achieved from this endorphin release and from the different psychological triggers exceedingly difficult to achieve and, unfortunately, alcoholism follows.

If you or a loved one are addicted to alcohol, take a look at your treatment options at The Recovery Village.

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