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Understanding Alcoholism: Addiction Impact and Treatment

Alcoholism: Understanding Its Addictive Nature and Impact on the Brain

Alcohol is one of the most widely consumed psychoactive substances in the world. It is consumed as a way to relax, socialize, celebrate, and unwind.

Despite the perceived benefits, alcohol is addictive and can have detrimental effects on the brain. This article will explore the physiologic and genetic factors that make alcohol addictive, the impact of alcoholism on the brain, and the importance of educating individuals about the dangers of alcoholism.

Why Alcohol is Addictive

Alcoholism is one of the most common addiction disorders worldwide. What makes alcohol so addictive?

Physiological Changes: Alcohol stimulates the brain by increasing the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and endorphins. These chemicals provide feelings of pleasure and reward, making alcohol consumption a desired experience.

Moreover, it alters the brain’s chemistry, which results in physical dependence, worsening addiction over time.

Genetics: Studies show that genetic factors account for almost half (49%) of the likelihood of developing alcoholism. Individuals with a family history of addiction are more likely to develop an addiction disorder to alcohol.

Social Pressure: Peer pressure is often a contributing factor to alcohol addiction. Social settings where drinking is encouraged, or even mandatory can make it challenging to abstain from drinking.

Withdrawal Symptoms: Alcohol dependence results in physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms when abstaining from alcohol, including discomfort, nausea, and cravings. Alcohol-Positive Advertising: Marketing campaigns that promote alcohol consumption as a way to socialize or relax make it difficult for those struggling with alcohol addiction to abstain from drinking.

Availability of and Proximity to Alcohol: the prevalence of accessibility and abundance of alcohol makes it attractive and easy to find to those who are at risk of alcoholism. Positive Associations with Alcohol: Celebrations and rewarding oneself are often associated with alcohol consumption, making it attractive even to those who do not have addiction tendencies.

Easing of Mental Health Symptoms: People who struggle with comorbid mental health issues like anxiety or depression are more likely to turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication.

How Alcoholism Affects the Brain

The human brain is a complex organ and is significantly affected by the abuse of alcohol. Chronic alcohol use impacts the brain as follows:

Negative Impact on Brain Areas: Alcohol consumption worsens cognitive function, including memory, problem-solving, and judgement making.

Moreover, the continued abuse of alcohol can cause permanent brain damage. Impact on the Reward Center: Alcohol use stimulates the brain’s reward center, which results in pleasurable sensations and a reduction in anxiety, intensifying addiction because withdrawal feels just as uncomfortable, if not worse.

Permanent Damage to Brain Processes and Functions: Chronic alcohol abuse causes neural alterations in the brain that can result in significant, permanent brain damage. Vulnerability During Brain Development: Adolescents are significantly vulnerable to alcohol’s impact on the brain since their brain development is still ongoing.

This vulnerability can lead to more permanent, negative damage that can influence their adulthood. It is crucial to educate individuals about the dangers of alcoholism to reduce its impact on the brain and on society.

Education about the short-term and long-term effects of alcohol on an individual’s body is a crucial step in the prevention and treatment of alcoholism.


Alcohol addiction is a complex disorder that requires a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary approach to treatment. There are different reasons why people develop an addiction to alcohol, such as physiological changes, genetics, social pressures, advertising, availability and proximity to alcohol, and a desire to alleviate mental health symptoms.

Alcoholism impacts several areas of the human brain, leading to negative impacts on cognition, emotion, and brain processing. Education is vital in the prevention and treatment of alcoholism.

By understanding the risk factors and effects of alcoholism, individuals can make informed decisions about their alcohol consumption, and find the help they need to overcome their addiction. Who is More at Risk of Developing Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a chronic relapsing disease that can arise from a combination of biological, environmental, and genetic factors. While anyone can develop AUD, certain individuals are more at risk than others.

This article will discuss the risk factors associated with developing AUD, including drinking earlier, genetics, mental health conditions, and family history.

Drinking Earlier

The risk of developing AUD is higher among individuals who start drinking at an earlier age. There is a reason that the legal age for drinking in many countries is 21 or older.

Research shows that people who start drinking before the age of 15 have a higher risk of developing AUD later in life, compared to those who wait until they are older to start drinking. The earlier children start drinking, the more likely they are to develop problematic drinking behaviors earlier in life.


Several studies have shown that there is a strong genetic component to the development of AUD. Having a family history of AUD makes it more likely that an individual will develop the disorder themselves.

Studies have suggested that the heritability of AUD is between 50 to 60%. Factors such as altered brain chemistry and how the brain handles alcohol contribute to the risk of alcoholism.

Mental Health Conditions

People struggling with comorbid mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or childhood trauma, can have a higher chance of developing AUD. Psychiatric disorders often go hand-in-hand with addiction.

Drinking can provide a temporary relief from uncomfortable feelings, worsening the addiction over time until the individual seeks help for both AUD and their psychological condition.

Family History of Alcoholism

Research findings indicate that there is a familial predisposition to alcoholism. A family history of heavy drinking increases an individual’s risk of developing AUD.

Family members with AUD may influence the behavior of other family members, making it easier to develop harmful drinking behaviours to fit in.

Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) outlines the criteria for AUD, providing doctors with guidelines for diagnosing the disorder. Here are the symptoms that doctors typically look for when screening for AUD:


Binge Drinking: Drinking more than a designated amount of alcohol in two hours, leading to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher. 2.

Unable to Cut Back: Drinking more alcohol or longer than intended. 3.

Strong Need to Drink: Craving alcohol or experiencing urges to drink. 4.

Relationship Problems: Continuing to drink despite problem relationships caused by alcohol, or ceasing to participate in social or recreational activities due to alcohol use. 5.

Tolerance: Needing more drinks to get the desired effect. 6.

Withdrawal: Experiencing physical symptoms when alcohol use is stopped or reduced. To be diagnosed with AUD, an individual must exhibit at least two of these symptoms within a 12-month period.

Depending on the number of symptoms displayed (2-11), AUD can be classified as mild, moderate or severe.


While anyone can develop AUD, certain individuals are more at risk than others. Drinking earlier in life, family history, genetic factors, and mental health conditions all significantly increase the likelihood of developing the disorder.

Health professionals use diagnostic criteria to assess whether or not an individual is struggling with AUD. If you or someone you know is at risk of developing AUD, it is crucial to seek the help of a medical professional and consider various treatment options available.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Misuse and Addiction

Alcohol addiction is a chronic disorder that can have devastating effects on an individual’s health and well-being. Fortunately, effective treatment options are available.

The following are the most common options for treating alcohol misuse and addiction.

Inpatient Care

Inpatient care is also known as residential treatment, which provides 24-hour medical supervision. This treatment is designed for individuals who have a severe addiction that requires continuous medical care.

The individual will reside in the facility full-time for several weeks or months. Inpatient care involves medical detoxification to help the individual overcome the physical dependence on alcohol.

A multidisciplinary team of health professionals such as doctors, nurses, and therapists work together to create a personalized treatment plan that addresses the individual’s specific needs. Inpatient care helps the individual recover in a safe and controlled environment, surrounded by medical professionals and medical treatments catered to their specific needs.

Outpatient Care

Outpatient care is an effective option for those individuals with a moderate to mild addiction. This treatment option is more flexible than inpatient care, allowing individuals the ability to maintain their daily schedule or work obligations while attending counseling sessions.

Outpatient care focuses mainly on behavioral therapies such as

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help change the individual’s relationship with alcohol and develop coping mechanisms to stay sober. Outpatient care is an excellent option for those individuals who have a strong support system at home or in the community that can assist them in their recovery.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) involves using medication to reduce hunger cravings and lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms. MAT is most effective when used in conjunction with therapy.

MAT helps keep the cravings under control, allowing individuals to focus on their addiction treatment plan without severe physical symptoms of withdrawal. MAT uses medications that are all FDA-approved and safe to use to dampen the pleasure signals associated with drug or alcohol abuse.

Incorporating medication with therapy has proven beneficial towards long-term sobriety and an effective option for those with severe alcohol addiction.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a short-term approach that helps individuals learn to stop their negative thought patterns and create healthier habits. This therapy helps the individual identify their triggers and stressors that lead to cravings and assist in developing effective ways to deal with them.

Therapy sessions usually involve one-on-one counseling, but group therapy sessions are also beneficial for those who thrive better in a group setting. CBT is the most widely used form of therapy used to treat alcohol addiction and is particularly effective for those battling anxiety, depression, or other mental health symptoms.

Support Groups

Support groups are an essential tool for those who are alcohol-dependent or in recovery. These groups offer a safe and supportive environment to discuss their experiences, share stories, and offer encouragement to those who are struggling.

These groups are beneficial as they serve as a source of accountability and peer support as individuals navigate their journey to sobriety. Support groups can be found at community centers, churches, hospitals, and mental health facilities.


Effective treatment options are available for those struggling with alcohol addiction. Inpatient care and outpatient care are both effective options, with medication-assisted treatment proving beneficial for those with severe addiction disorders.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and

Support Groups are effective in addressing not just the addiction symptoms but also related mental health symptoms, and help to address the triggers and stressors that are associated with alcohol abuse. No matter the treatment option chosen, it’s essential to continue ongoing therapy after discharge to ensure long-term success in recovery.

Alcoholism is a complex condition that can have a debilitating effect on an individual’s life. However, with education, awareness, and effective treatment options, individuals can regain their sobriety and improve their quality of life.

It’s important to recognize the various risk factors and symptoms associated with alcoholism, as well as the available treatment options, to help those struggling with addiction. Below are some frequently asked questions regarding alcoholism to provide you with useful information and a better understanding of the disorder.


1. What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a chronic disease that results from continued alcohol abuse, leading to physical and/or psychological withdrawal symptoms. 2.

What are the Risk Factors Associated with Developing AUD? Drinking earlier in life, family history, genetic factors, and mental health conditions all significantly increase the likelihood of developing the disorder.

3. What are the Common Symptoms of AUD?

Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder include binge drinking, unable to cut back, the strong need to drink, relationship problems, tolerance, and withdrawal. 4.

What are the Available Treatment Options for AUD? Treatment options for AUD include inpatient care, outpatient care, medication-assisted treatment, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and support groups.

5. How Effective are Treatment Options for AUD?

Various treatment options have proven effective in addressing alcoholism, and their effectiveness depends on the individual’s severity of addiction. Recovery is a continuous process, and ongoing therapy affirms long-term success in recovery.

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