Monday, June 17, 2024

How Easy Is It To Become Addicted To Alcohol

Alcohol Effects On Behavior

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Slurred speech, motor impairment, confusion and memory problems are just a few common consequences of alcohol consumption in the short-term. This can make drinkers more prone to accidents, injuries and violent behavior. Alcohol is a factor in more than half of fatal burn injuries, drownings and homicides. Its also a significant factor in moderate to severe injuries, suicides and sexual assaults. Alcohol plays a part in 40 percent of fatal motor vehicle crashes.

Heavy drinking may also result in risky sexual behaviors like unprotected sex, which can lead to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. These alcohol addiction effects can have lifelong consequences.

What Could Raise Your Risk

Several things may might make you more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder , which can vary in severity. Mayo Clinic says the risk factors include:

  • Long-term heavy drinking.If you drink a lot of alcohol regularly, youâre at higher risk for getting an AUD.

  • Binge drinking at an early age. You can develop an AUD at any age, but youâre risk goes up if you start binge drinking earlier in life. This typically involves having four or more drinks if youâre a woman and five or more drinks if youâre a man in about 2 hours.

  • Mental health problems or trauma.âSubstance use and alcohol is often used to self-medicate for both physical and mental health problems,â says Margie Skeer, ScD, associate professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. Thatâs why alcohol use disorder sometimes happens in people who also have a history of trauma, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder.

  • Other influences. If your family, social circle, or partner drink in excess, you may be at higher risk for developing an alcohol use disorder.

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.

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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 weve 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.

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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 its 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 youre used to.

Signs Of Alcohol Dependence

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Signs of alcohol dependence include:

  • not being able to function without alcohol
  • drinking has become an important, or most important, thing in life
  • continuing to drink despite negative consequences for you or your loved ones
  • finding it difficult to control the amount or the times when you drink
  • finding it difficult to stop drinking when you want to
  • not always being able to plan with certainty how much you are going to drink on an occasion
  • drinking more alcohol
  • craving alcohol or having withdrawal symptoms
  • not seeming to be drunk after drinking large amounts

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Are All Drugs Addictive

Any substance has the potential to cause addiction in an individual, but the potency of the drug has a huge impact on how quickly someone can develop an addiction. When comparing Ibuprofen with cocaine, for example, its obvious that developing an addiction to cocaine is much easier due to its highly euphoric effects.

Although unlikely for most drugs, it is possible to form a drug addiction after one use. Drugs like heroin can produce such a compelling high that people may begin to crave it after a single use.

The History Of The Alcoholism Research

Alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction are not new conditions. People who struggle to control their consumption have likely existed for as long as alcohol has been around. The public understanding of alcohol addiction, however, is a newer concept. Knowledge surrounding the causes of alcoholism was still scarce until the mid-1900s.

Little research on alcohol and alcohol addiction existed in the early 1900s. There were plenty of people who couldnt control their drinking but doctors couldnt explain why at the time. The disease concept of alcoholism hadnt yet been introduced. Many thought that drinking problems were the result of weak willpower or a lack of self-control.

The field of alcohol science progressed further after Prohibition was repealed in the 1930s. Researchers conducted more studies to help them learn and understand why, regardless of the consequences, some people cannot control or stop drinking. This new phase of research laid the groundwork for how we understand alcohol addiction today.

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How Does Alcohol Dependence Develop

No one sets out to become an alcoholic, but regular, heavy drinking can result in alcohol dependence and alcoholism.

When we drink, alcohol enters the brain and disrupts the delicate balance of chemicals called neurotransmitters that keep the body functioning normally. This disruption leads to the numerous behavioral changes and physical signs associated with intoxication, such as euphoria, loss of inhibition, impaired coordination, slurred speech and drowsiness.

Fortunately, these effects are temporary and wear off after the body breaks down the alcohol. But when exposure to alcohol is ongoing, the brain seeks to compensate for these effects, and a complex cascade of long-term chemical changes begin to occur.

To counteract the brain-slowing effects of alcohol, for instance, the brain increases the activity of excitatory neurotransmitters, which stimulate nerve activity and heighten arousal. As these changes occur, people require increasingly larger amounts of alcohol to become intoxicated. As a result, their drinking will often escalate.

At the same time, the drinker will likely begin to experience intense cravings for alcohol and distressing physical withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, anxiety, tremors, an elevated heart rate and insomnia, when they stop drinking.

To avoid these uncomfortable symptoms, which can occur as soon as six hours after people who are dependent on alcohol consume their last drink, a person may begin drinking frequently or around-the-clock.

Tolerance Is A Key Symptom Of Addiction

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Sometimes an addiction can sneak up on you slowly and insidiously. As you continue to use a drug, you can slowly build up a tolerance to it, which means that you no longer get the same feeling or “high” that you once got by taking a small amount.

Once your tolerance begins to build, you might increase the dose or frequency of taking the drug. You are trying to get that same “high” that you felt in the beginning when your body was not used to the drug. As you continue to build tolerance, you end up taking more of the drug. Your body becomes chemically dependent on the drug. Which means, you discover that you need to take the drug just to feel normal or leveled out.

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Clients Can Find Fulfilment Without Alcohol

Alcohol treatment centers deliver a wide range of therapies and addiction treatment programs to clients. These can all be helpful because each individual client needs to create their own route to recovery. Part of this process is finding fulfillment that stems from something other than alcohol. In treatment, clients will find joy and purpose in unexpected places.

Some clients, for example, may struggle to socialize without alcohol. In group therapy and in social activities during rehab, they can relearn how to communicate while sober. Through games and activities, it is possible to find joy and happiness in these environments.

Other clients might want to re-enter the professional world. Alcohol addiction can be a stumbling block, but it doesnt necessarily prevent you from having a successful career again or for the first time. During treatment, counselors can help you plan for the future and discover what your purpose is in life. Finding this purpose can motivate clients to get healthy for all the right reasons.

Alcohol Effects On The Brain

Alcohol can have short- and long-term effects on the brain and disrupts the brains communication pathways. These can influence mood, behavior and other cognitive functions.

Brain damage may also occur through alcohol-induced nutrition deficiencies, alcohol-induced seizures and liver disease. In pregnant women, alcohol exposure can impact the brains of unborn babies, resulting in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

It is reported that alcohol-induced brain problems can often be corrected with proper treatment. Abstinence from alcohol for months or years can help partially repair some effects of alcohol addiction, including thinking abilities, like memory skills.

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Evaluating The Costs And Benefits Of Drinking

Make a table like the one below, weighing the costs and benefits of drinking to the costs and benefits of quitting.

Is drinking worth the cost?
Benefits of drinking
  • Id have to find another way to deal with problems.
  • Id lose my drinking buddies.
  • I would have to face the responsibilities Ive been ignoring.

Drinking To Feel Normal

Identifying Alcohol Addiction

In order to combat withdrawal symptoms, many people will feel as if they need to drink to feel normal. Signs of this can include drinking alone, during work hours, before major events or places where no one else is drinking. If your drinking a necessity to feel normal or having a need to have drinks throughout the day to maintain the feeling of normality, this is a clear sign of alcohol addiction.

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How Quickly Do Drugs Become Addictive

  • Drug Addiction Treatment

Drug addiction is a chronic disease of the brain that must be managed over a lifetime. However, developing an addiction is a much quicker process than treating one. Most people know that drugs and even other substances or activities can be addictive, but they may not know how addiction develops. Understanding how quickly drugs become addictive is key in the prevention of substance abuse.

How Doctors Diagnose Alcohol Dependence

Doctors assess whether someone is dependent on alcohol by looking for signs that show their patient cant regulate their drinking, and that they have a strong internal drive to use alcohol.

The specific symptoms they look for are:9

  • Impaired control over alcohol useThis might mean not being able to control how long a drinking session is, how much alcohol you consume when you do drink, how frequently you drink, being unable to stop drinking once you start, or drinking on inappropriate occasions or at inappropriate places.
  • Giving increasing priority to alcoholIf you give precedence to drinking over other daily activities and responsibilities like family or work, if drinking is more important to you than looking after your health, or you carry on drinking despite negative consequences for your health or life.
  • Unwanted physical or mental effects from drinkingShowing signs of increased tolerance to alcohol , experiencing withdrawal symptoms, or using alcohol to prevent or alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

A doctor may diagnose alcohol dependence if you show two or more of the above symptoms based on the ongoing pattern of how you use alcohol. Usually this is based on behaviour over the last 12 months or more, but alcohol dependence could be diagnosed based on continuous daily use of alcohol over a period of at least three months.

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The Origins Of The Stages Of Alcoholism

Morton Jellinek was a scientist whose research helped form a better understanding of alcohol addiction today. In 1946 he published a paper on the progressive nature of alcoholism based on a small study of members of Alcoholics Anonymous. He proposed the idea that problem drinking follows a common trajectory through various stages of decline.

Throughout the following years, Jellinek conducted another study on a wider sample size which led to another piece. He published a follow-up paper in 1952, Phases of Alcohol Addiction, that built upon his original ideas. He outlined the unique stages of drinkers categorized by their drinking behaviors.

Jellinek looked at the way alcoholics started in the pre-alcoholic stage, drinking in a casual, social manner. They drink socially with friends or while out for dinner. As they continue drinking, though, they move from a point where their reasons for drinking are no longer social but psychological. Whether they realize it or not, theyre beginning to lose control of their drinking. If they do not stop drinking, they continue progressing to the point of alcohol dependence and then finally to the point of chronic alcohol use.

Jellineks studies and publications eventually led to the formation of the Jellinek Curve. It illustrates the symptoms seen during a persons progression through the stages of alcoholism. The four main stages include:

  • Pre-Alcoholic Stage
  • Middle Alcoholic Phase
  • End-Stage Alcoholism

Changing The Brain’s Reward System

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Drug addiction is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brainthey change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long-lasting and can lead to harmful behaviors.

Brain imaging studies of people with addiction show physical changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision-making, learning and memory, and behavior control.

Research tells us that repeated use of a drug actually begins to make chemical changes in the brain that alters the brain’s reward system. When someone continues to use a substance even when it no longer provides pleasure, it’s called the pathological pursuit of rewards, or addiction.

Usually, it takes some time for a drug to begin to change the brain’s reward system to the point that a person forms an addiction, but some drugs can do so very quickly.

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Warning Signs Of Alcoholism

Here are a few warning signs of alcohol dependence to look out for:

  • Continuing to drink even though its causing problems with family, friends, or work
  • Having to continuously drink more to achieve the same effect
  • Experiencing frequent blackouts
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, anxiety or trouble sleeping
  • Putting yourself in risky situations by drinking, such as driving while buzzed or drunk, or having unsafe sex
  • Using alcohol to deal with stress
  • Trying to hide your drinking from others
  • Not being able to set limits on your drinking and stick with them. That could mean drinking more often than planned or having more drinks than planned on a particular day.
  • Having a life that revolves either around drinking or recovering from drinking. You may find that old hobbies that dont involve drinking are losing their appeal.

Signaling Problem In The Amygdala

When the researchers looked inside the rats brains, they discovered what might be disrupting the motivational control. First, they looked for differences in gene expression in different parts of the brain. The biggest differences were in the amygdala.

They revealed that the gene that codes for a protein called GAT-3 was expressed at much lower levels in the amygdala of the rats that continued to choose alcohol compared with the rats that switched to sugared water.

GAT-3 is a transporter protein that helps to clear away GABA from around neurons. Studies have also revealed that rats that become addicted to alcohol seem to have altered GABA signaling.

To confirm that the GAT-3 gene was at fault, the scientists ran another experiment in which they silenced GAT-3 in the rats that had switched over to sugared water in preference to alcohol.

The effect was striking: the GAT-3 silenced rats began to behave similarly to their alcohol-seeking counterparts. When they were again given a choice between dosing themselves with alcohol or sugared water, they chose alcohol.

Finally, in collaboration with a team from the University of Texas at Austin, the researchers analyzed GAT-3 levels in human postmortem brain tissue. They found that GAT-3 levels were lower in tissue taken from individuals with documented alcohol addiction.

The scientists believe that the findings will lead to improved treatments for alcohol dependence.

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How Addictions Can Affect You

The strain of managing an addiction can seriously damage your work life and relationships. In the case of substance misuse , an addiction can have serious psychological and physical effects.

Some studies suggest a person’s risk of becoming addicted is partly genetic, but environmental factors, such as being around other people with addictions, are also thought to increase the risk.

Behaviours such as substance misuse can be a way of blocking out difficult issues. Unemployment and poverty can trigger addiction, along with stress and emotional or professional pressure.

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