Why Alcohol and Drug Addictions Happen
It’s a commonly misunderstood thing why people become addicted to drugs and alcohol, as well as the changes that these substances make in the brain. Many people simply see drug addiction as a weakness of character or a social problem; going so far as to characterize people who are drug addicts as somehow morally weaker than others.
It’s a very frequent misconception that conquering alcohol and drug abuse is simply a matter of willpower and therefore anyone should be able to do it if they want it badly enough.
This isn’t the case – substance addiction is a complex thing. It causes problems in the brain and alters brain chemistry, sometimes making it an actual dependency on the substance, physically speaking.
Science has shown us a great deal about how substance abuse affects the workings of the brain and how these substances work in general, so there is now a way for treating drug and alcohol addiction.
We also know that substance addiction is curable, and people who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction can go on to lead successful and fruitful lives regardless, through successful addiction treatment.
Addiction is a chronic, and usually relapsing condition of the brain which causes a need for a particular substance. Even though the substances abused are harmful to the person, their brain requires the chemical it provides in order to function normally.
Drug addiction often leads to permanent structural changes in the brain, reconnecting neural pathways and thought processes. For many people, the choice to begin using drugs and alcohol is voluntary, and but time the abundance of the chemical in the brain causes a physical and psychological drug dependency on it. The person loses the ability to think rationally and to make logical decisions, because virtually all of the brain is overwhelmed by the desire for these chemicals.
Why is Alcohol so Addictive?
Most social events host some sort of alcoholic beverage, and because of this social norm, many feel that it is an expectation to drink while attending.
According to the American Psychologist, many people experience alcohol myopia, a temporary sensation of relief from depression or anxiety when drinking. Also, those who have these underlying mental illnesses are more susceptible to addictions, whether alcohol or illegal substances.
Alcohol increases the production of endorphins in the body, which are natural painkillers that incite confidence, anxiety relief and general contentment with one’s life.
It also reduces inhibitions, which makes people feel relaxed and helps them to fight any social phobias they may have. This crutch can be very addictive to certain people.
Drugs and alcohol are abused by people to help them cope with various aspects of life. Many addicts have a dual diagnosis of substance abuse and a mental illness. They try to escape the feelings of depression, anxiety, and other disorders by drinking or getting “high”.
People also avoid the stress that comes up on a daily basis or deal with traumatic situations in the same way. But the truth is that this doesn’t really work; it only masks the pain, and creates more problems.
For more information, you can refer to the Co-occurring Anxiety Disorders.
Alcohol Abuse and Health Implications
The problem with alcohol abuse, is that most people only consider the short term consequences such as drunkenness and a hangover the following morning. What people are not putting enough stock into; however, are the potential long term consequences that come from alcohol abuse. The Journal of the American College of Cardiology recently released a report indicating that problem drinking may damage the heart on a long term scale.
Both long term drinking and short-term binge drinking can affect the way that the heart beats. The heart relies heavily on an internal pacemaker system that allows it to pump in a consistent manner. Alcohol is capable of disrupting this system, causing the heart to beat irregularly. The name for this heart rate abnormality is arrhythmia.
When a person drinks to excess, especially someone who does not typically drink, this can trigger an arrhythmia. Over the long term, these heart irregularities can add up, causing changes in the electrical impulses of the heart.
Heavy drinking also takes a toll on the liver, which is responsible for removing toxins from the body; the pancreas is also effected as it becomes inflamed and swollen from continued alcohol use.
Alcohol abuse can lead to a stroke as well even in someone who does not have coronary heart disease. There have been recent studies which have shown that a person who engages in binge drinking is approximately 56 percent more likely to suffer an ischemic stroke within ten years, as opposed to someone who does not binge drink.
People who engage in binge drinking are also 39 percent more likely to suffer from any form of stroke as compared to people who do not.
Alcohol can exacerbate the health issues that lead to strokes, such as cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia and hypertension. Chronic use of alcohol and binge drinking can both cause hypertension as well, which is characterized by high blood pressure.
Your blood pressure is a measurement of how much pressure the heart is creating every time it beats as well as how much pressure is in the arteries and veins. Consuming alcohol in a heavy manner can trigger the release of stress hormones that may constrict the blood vessels, and this can artificially elevate blood pressure.
Alcohol can also affect how the muscles located within the blood vessels function, which can cause them to constrict – resulting in elevated blood pressure.
Heavy drinking can also weaken the heart muscle, which causes a condition known as alcoholic cardiomyopathy. When the heart muscle weakens, it stretches, and is then incapable of contracting properly.
When the heart cannot contract effectively, it cannot pump a sufficient amount of blood to nourish the body’s many organs. This shortage in blood flow may cause severe tissue and organ damage over time.
Alcoholic cardiomyopathy may also lead to heart failure when not treated.
The bottom line is that drinking is not good for the heart, beyond the recommended amount.
If you are abusing alcohol or engaging in chronic drinking, then the odds are good that you are causing damage to your heart. This damage can cause more health issues over time, which can even be fatal when left unchecked. If you are struggling with problem drinking in any form, or full blown alcoholism, you need to seek help sooner rather than later.
Alcohol Abuse and Brain Health
Becoming addicted to alcohol is not something most people would envision for themselves. It can happen very quickly and can decidedly take over your life; destroying everything from relationships to careers. What many people don’t think about are the effects of alcohol addiction on the brain. There are both long term and short term effects on the brain for those abusing alcohol.
Immediate Effects of Alcohol Abuse and Addiction
- Diminished hand and eye coordination.
- Slowed reflexes and reaction time.
- Impaired coordination.
- Inability to walk well.
- Blurred and altered vision.
- Inability to handle proper speech.
- Dulled memory.
- Impaired judgment.
- Lower impulse control.
- Intense mood swings.
- Increased or slowed heart rate.
- Difficulty breathing.
Long Term Effects Alcohol Abuse and Addiction
- Often and severe blackouts.
- Long term impaired coordination.
- Slowed speech and permanent impairment.
- Cognitive damage leading to impaired ability to learn.
- Inability to prepare or plan.
- Severe memory impairment.
- Mental confusion and vision difficulty relating to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.
- Liver disease causing anxiety and depression in the brain.
- Sleep disorders.
- Asterixis or shaky hands.
- Korsakoff’s Psychosis including learning and memory impairment.
- Chronic fatigue.
- Paralysis of nerves in the eyes and other areas causing a failure in muscle control.
Many of these effects are life long debilitating effects and can not be reversed. There are many that can be altered if help is received in time, but the brain is dramatically altered by the presence of alcohol on a repeated basis or in excess.
Some of the less obvious problems that cause the brain to suffer over time are a lack of proper vitamins to the body allowing the brain to function appropriately.
Alcohol Addiction, also known as Alcoholism and Alcohol Dependence Syndrome occurs when someone becomes completely reliant on alcohol and goes far beyond just drinking heavily and abusing alcohol.
This means that your body craves it non-stop, and you feel like you need it just to function normally. If you don’t have it, you will go out of your way to get it, even if that means breaking the law or stealing money from a friend to get it.
In addition, many people suffering from Alcoholism let their marriages turn to divorce, lose their job and stop paying rent. All because they can’t quit or control their addiction.
A study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has shown that individuals who consume alcohol on a regular basis are three times more likely to die from an injury.
They studied the rates of death for drinkers, former drinkers, and non-drinkers in the most common causes of injury-related death. These causes are car accidents, accidental falls, fires, drowning and poisonings, suicides through poisoning, gun deaths and hangings, strangulation or suffocation, gun-related homicides, and other homicides.
Between 54 and 64 percent of deaths which are caused by injuries were people who drank alcohol at least 12 times per year.
In every one of the categories, people who consumed alcohol during the year were more likely to die from injury. The highest risk was for drowning, which was 3.6 times more likely to be the cause of death for people who drank alcohol.
Information about the deaths and the individuals’ alcohol consumption was obtained from two surveys that provided data on each of the separate issues.
This study shows yet another way that alcohol abuse can lead to negative consequences in one’s life. People who are suffering from addiction are more likely to engage in risky behaviors and ignore problems caused by drinking. Alcohol makes people less aware of their surroundings; these things may be the reason for the higher risk of injury death among drinkers in the United States.
When you’re dependent on alcohol, your entire world revolves around it. You lose the ability to control your drinking; including when, how much, and how often you do it, and your body will begin to experience severe withdrawal symptoms during times of sobriety, which may cause you to start drinking again.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
When alcohol is not consumed, your body could experience physical reactions to the absence of the substance. These physical reactions are a sign of alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary depending upon the amount of alcohol that was consumed, length of time the drinking occurred and the individual.
The withdrawal symptoms you experience can vary widely based on how long you have been drinking and how heavily you drink. Some of these symptoms can be very severe and even life threatening; the most common Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms include:
- Depression (with suicidal tendencies)
- Loss of Appetite
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Shaking, Trembling and Jumpiness
Alcohol addiction is a condition that affects both the physical and mental health of a person. Medical Science considers it to be a neurological disorder, however science has not yet been able to understand the biological triggers that cause the disorder.
Better understood are some of the outside influences that can trigger the condition such as: Stress, family history, environment and mental health.
One of the major problems in accurately diagnosing alcohol addiction is the large amount of social stigma that is attached to the condition. This prevents many people from admitting to themselves that they have a problem, and can discourage a person who realized they have a problem from seeking treatment.
One of the tools used is a series of questions that help a person come to the realization themselves. The major defining trait of alcohol addiction is when a person will continue to drink even after they have come to the realization that they wish to stop drinking because of the problems that alcohol is causing in their lives.
There are definitely some serious implications to consider when it comes to ceasing your alcohol abuse cold turkey. While there are a number of mild symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal, some of the more severe symptoms can really cause problems that can affect your life and even cause you serious physical harm.
The hallucinations, hyperactivity, severe vomiting, delirium tremens (DTs) and seizures or convulsions that can be caused by alcohol withdrawal are all very serious symptoms. You absolutely have to avoid them at all costs by trading in the “cold turkey” method for alcohol detox through a trusted source like a alcoholism rehab center in your area.
Substances are frequently used to escape from something, and you must figure out what that is for you in order to be successful in recovery. By getting addiction treatment help, you can begin to change your thinking so that you no longer need to depend on drugs and alcohol.
The process of detox allows you to be free of physical dependence; but a large part of transformation in a successful alcohol rehab program comes from psychological work in individual counseling, group therapy, and other activities.
You will learn the tools necessary to cope with problems in a new and healthier way.
This requires developing a new outlook on life and the concrete skills to manage your problems without depending on drugs or alcohol abuse.