What is Alcohol? Why is it Addictive?
Alcohol, the beverage form known as the ethyl alcohol, is a distilled chemical compound added to fermented fruit and grains. Scientifically it is classified as a depressant drug, meaning it slows down vital organs and bodily function. Someone who has consumed a lot of alcohol (“drunk”) may experience impaired judgment, loss of coordination, and confused speech. People commonly drink alcohol to celebrate or relax. Though in excess it can be unpleasant and harmful long term, the effects depend on the volume and person’s body tolerance. Many people can drink a few beers at a party and be relatively fine, but it can be addictive, and some are genetically predisposed to alcoholism. Whether you choose to drink is a personal choice, but there inherent dangers, particularly with drinking and driving, drinking underage, and binge drinking. There are several different forms of alcohol as a beverage that range in their volume percentage of ethyl content. Generally, these are:
- Beer = 2–6%
- Cider = 4–8%
- Wine = 8–20%
- Tequila = 40%
- Rum = 40%
- Brandy = 40%
- Gin = 40–47%
- Whiskey = 40–50%
- Vodka = 40–50%
- Liqueurs = 15–60%
Alcohol becomes addictive when the brain becomes hooked on the release of endorphins, like dopamine, which creates a high sense of pleasure and reward.
Alcoholism & Abuse Info-Graphic
Teens, and increasingly younger children, often think drinking alcohol will make them cool, popular, and accepted. However, the chemical properties are detrimental to developing brains, can lead to alcohol poisoning, and immediate death. Underage drinking can cause permanent brain damage, and studies have linked it to lower academics, drinking-related accidents, suicidal thoughts and actions, and a higher risk of long term dependence. One study found that people who started drinking before age 15 were 4 times likely to develop a strong alcohol dependence and addiction later in life.
Underage drinking severely impacts emotional development by increasing activity of the neurotransmitters known as gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), which blocks stress signals to the brain. This effect results in a numbing sensation and high levels of depression and anxiety. Alcohol releases an overload of dopamine, a natural pleasure inducing chemical. This “feel good” vibe from drinking will quickly fade away and trigger a depression phase in young minds without it. Many teens may try to drink as a way to cope with depression without realizing it actually worsens psychological disorder long term. Habitual drinking in teens is linked to alarming levels of suicide. According to a report by John Hopkins University, youth who are heavy drinkers are about 26% more likely to commit self-harm and attempt suicide.
Alcohol, especially in developing minds, damages the cerebral cortex, resulting in impaired judgment. This condition can lead to teen believing themselves more confident and making risky decisions, including drinking and driving. In fact, 77% of youth have reported drinking while under the influence, resulting in accidents and vehicular manslaughter. Long term effects of underage drinking can also lead to short term memory loss.
Other risky behaviors from drinking include unsafe and illicit sexual activity. Underage drinking is associated with wild college parties and sexual assault and rape. Often young females are taken advantage of when the effects of drinking numb their senses. With their judgment clouded, young men can misinterpret body language and cues to fit the party peer pressures. One study from the National Institutes of Health found 67% of girls reported drinking related sexual harassment and 48% any form of sexual harassment, including unwanted hugs, kisses, and sexual touches. A similar study found that 49% of all underage drinking related sexual assault victims required immediate emergency treatment. Ultimately, these cases can lead to rape, unwanted pregnancies, and STDs.
With impaired judgment and motor skills, drunk teens are also likely to engage in physical fights and become injured stumbling, and drowning.
Drinking underage does not make you cool or powerful. Instead, it has very detrimental effects on your overall physical and mental health. Worldwide, alcohol kills more teenagers than all other drugs combined. Seek help immediately if you or your child is engaging in underage drinking.
Drinking and Driving
Drinking while under the influence of alcohol is illegal and highly dangerous. As previously mentioned, alcohol impairs cognitive ability, motor skills, reaction times, and memory. Without being in the right mindset, it is never safe to drink. Alcohol can boost confidence and fool you into thinking you can drive. Any level of it can induce drowsiness leading you to fall asleep at the wheel. In every state, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content volume of .08%, but often people are unaware of their limit. The statistics behind drinking and driving related accidents are frightening. According to the CDC, driving under the influence causes 16% of all car accidents across the nation. In fact, every day 28 people die a day from drunk driving. That’s means you have a 1 in 3 chance of being affected in your lifetime!
Binge drinking is defined as consuming large quantities of alcohol in one session, usually 5 or more drinks for a man and 4 or more for a woman. The CDC estimate that about 40% of American admit to binge drinking, 90% of this population being underage. This chronic behavior of this kind can lead to permanent brain, liver, and kidney failure and many forms of cancer. This sudden and heavy consumption can induce a coma, “blackout” memory loss, diarrhea, vomiting, and death by alcohol poisoning, a stroke, and shallow breathing. As the body consumes excessive about of alcohol, the liver tries to flush it out but cannot react in time when binge drinking. Unsafe levels of ammonia and manganese enter the brain and create hepatic encephalopathy, resulting in constant personality and mood changes, ongoing psychological conditions, and immediate loss of consciousness. From habitual binge drinking, the pancreas, normally responsible for processing food, gets confused and actually begins to eat itself, leading diabetes, many forms of cancer, and eventual death directly. Preexisting heart and stomach conditions can worsen the effects of binge drinking.
Recognizing Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol can be perfectly safe if occasionally taken in moderation, but it can be addictive, and many people have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. Addiction is more than just drinking too much at a party once and awhile but is characterized by a psychologically controlling drive that you cannot stop on your own. Usually, you can self-diagnose and determine your need for help. However, it can be difficult to admit the problem due to pride and peer pressure. Alcohol is classed a drug and is the 4th most leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
Seek help immediately if you notice any of these signs:
- You have no control or willpower to stop drinking
- You drink in risky situations, such as driving, at work or school, or operating machinery
- Your drink interferes with your ability to care for yourself properly, such as disregarding hygiene and appearance, a healthy diet, and sleep cycle.
- You need to drink more alcohol more frequently to get the same effect
- Your drinking habits harm your relationships with loved ones
- You physically get sick often from drinking
- You feel guilty about drinking and try to hide buying alcohol
- You have experienced legal problems caused by too much drinking
Many people already suffering from depression, bipolar, and anxiety disorders may seek alcohol as a way to relax and escape, but the damage caused by alcoholism only multiplies and complicates the problems. If you know someone an alcoholic, don’t preach or talk down to them. Instead, give them positive attention while being honest about their need for recovery.
Heightened Abuse – Mixing Alcohol with Other Drugs
Gangs and wild party commonly mix alcohol with other drugs, particularly cocaine. One study found that 12% of all alcohol dependents were also heavy users of illicit drugs. Many falsely believe this somehow lowers the dangerous effects of the drugs, but actually, it increases the likelihood of an overdose dramatically. Because combining cocaine and alcohol creates opposing effects, a rush of adrenaline and depressed body functions, the results range and can be very unpredictable This combination is perilous and can lead to immediate death due to heart attacks, respiratory problems, and violent behaviors. Many addicts also combine alcohol with prescription medications, like opioid based painkillers, or marijuana. Joined with these drugs you are likely to experience much higher levels of loss of bodily control and numbness.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Treatment plans for alcoholism vary, but it is never effective to try quitting on your own. Talk with your doctor regarding the best recovery plan with your physical conditions, who may recommend a kind of inpatient or rehabilitation center. These facilities will provide 24/7 medical attention and proper dietary plans to detox the substance fully. This close monitoring by doctors and nurses may be needed to manage the withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal Symptoms May Include:
- Intense bouts of depression and anxiety
- Stomach pains
- Chest pain and general heart problems
- Uncontrollable shaking
- In some cases, seizures, and hallucinations
Rehab centers also may provide necessary counseling and group therapy to help cope with emotional and spiritual recovery. Different seminars and trainings will equip you with life skill to repair relationships, find work again, and fully integrate back into your old life. A typical rehab center program may last up to a month. It’s vital afterward to continue managing recovery with close accountability with loved ones. You may find it helpful to attend weekly support groups. In some cases of chronic abuse, you may need to check into a residential treatment center. This step may be best if you don’t have a close net of support from loved ones.
Whatever option your doctor recommends, anyone can overcome alcoholism with the right level of commitment, accountability, and genuine care from others.