Alcohol Addiction

Understanding Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism, is a pervasive and debilitating issue that affects millions of individuals worldwide. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, more Americans die from alcohol-related causes than from any other substance addiction. This chronic disease, characterized by an overwhelming dependence on alcohol, can have profound physical, psychological, and social consequences. While alcohol use often begins innocently with casual drinking, for some, it can spiral out of control, leading to a compulsive need for alcohol that disrupts every aspect of their lives. 

The Relationship Between the Brain and Alcohol Abuse 

The human brain functions on a delicate balance of reinforcing positive behaviors and suppressing negative ones, which takes place in the dorsal striatum, a brain region critical for goal-directed behavior and implicated in drug and alcohol addiction.

According to a new study in Biological Psychiatry, two pathways in the dorsal striatum that regulate this process:

  1. the “Go” pathway, which hits the gas for rewarding behaviors, and the “No-Go” pathway, which hits the brakes
  2. have opposite effects to control alcohol drinking behavior. Led by Dr. Jun Wang of Texas A&M Health Science Center, the study reports that alcohol-induced alterations in the signaling of these two pathways reinforce alcohol consumption, possibly leading to alcohol abuse or addiction.

Research on Mice Training and Alcohol Abuse

Co-authors Dr. Yifeng Cheng, Dr. Cathy Huang, and Dr. Tengfei Ma and their colleagues trained mice to become heavy drinkers by repeated cycles of consumption of 20% alcohol (slightly higher than the average alcohol content in a glass of wine), followed by cycles of withdrawal. They then measured the effects on the brain.

“To the best of our knowledge, this article demonstrated, for the first time, that excessive alcohol consumption suppresses activity of the No-Go pathway,” said Wang.

The researchers found that excessive alcohol consumption caused increased signaling of glutamate, the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain, ramping up the “Go” signal. 

The findings reveal detailed information on the mechanisms underlying control of alcohol consumption. “Both of these effects serve to reinforce alcohol consumption, leading to pathological excessive use of alcohol,” wrote the authors. Through manipulation of cells specific to each pathway to mimic either increased glutamatergic or GABAergic activity, Cheng and colleagues confirmed that inhibition of cells in the No-Go pathway and excitation of cells in the Go pathway promotes alcohol consumption. The findings indicate that either of these alterations is sufficient to drive alcohol drinking behavior.

What Causes Alcohol Addiction?

As this is such a baffling and potentially life-threatening condition, it makes sense to ask – what causes alcohol addiction? Unhealthy relationships with alcohol can be linked to one or a combination of three primary: genetics, environment, and psychology: 

  • Genetics plays a significant role, as individuals with a family history of alcoholism are more vulnerable to developing the condition themselves.
  • Environmental factors, such as exposure to excessive drinking during childhood, social influences, and stressors, can also contribute to the development of alcoholism.
  • Additionally, mental health issues like depression and anxiety often co-occur with alcoholism, as individuals may turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Also, certain personality traits, like impulsivity, may increase the risk of alcohol addiction, and early initiation of alcohol consumption can be a contributing factor. 

Signs of Alcohol Addiction 

Recognizing and understanding the signs of alcohol addiction can be crucial for early intervention and support. Here are some common signs of alcoholism:

  • Increased Tolerance: This is when an individual needs to consume more and more alcohol in order to achieve the desired effect or experience reduced intoxication with the same amount of alcohol.
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: These are physical and psychological responses when attempting to quit or cut down on drinking, such as nausea, anxiety, tremors, or sweating.
  • Loss of Control: Inability to limit alcohol consumption or unsuccessful attempts to quit.
  • Preoccupation with Alcohol: Spending a significant amount of time thinking, obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of alcohol.
  • Neglecting Responsibilities: Failing to fulfill work, school, or family obligations due to alcohol use.
  • Continued Use Despite Consequences: Persisting in alcohol use regardless of knowing that it can cause or worsen physical, psychological, or social problems.
  • Social Isolation: Avoiding friends and activities that were once enjoyable in favor of alcohol consumption.
  • Increased Risk-Taking: Engaging in risky behaviors while intoxicated, such as drunk driving or unprotected sex.
  • Loss of Interest: A decline in interest in previously enjoyable activities.
  • Hiding or Sneaking Alcohol: Keeping alcohol hidden or lying about the amount consumed.
  • Alcohol as Coping Mechanism: Using alcohol to cope with stress, emotional pain, or mental health issues.
  • Cravings: Intense and uncontrollable urges to drink.
  • Physical Health Deterioration: Developing alcohol-related health problems, such as liver disease, pancreatitis, or cardiovascular issues.
  • Legal Issues: Getting into legal trouble due to alcohol-related actions, such as DUIs or public intoxication.
  • Financial Problems: Experiencing financial difficulties as a result of spending a significant portion of income on alcohol.

It’s worth mentioning that the presence of one or more of these signs doesn’t necessarily mean someone is addicted to alcohol, but if you or someone you know exhibits several of these signs, it’s advisable to seek help and support from a healthcare professional or addiction specialist.

Recover From Alcohol Addiction 

Direct2Recovery in Arizona specializes in guiding individuals through their journey to freedom from alcohol addiction. If you or a loved one needs help, don’t wait. Reach out to us today to inquire about our expert treatment options and take the first step towards a healthier, drug-free life. Your path to recovery starts here.

Alcohol Addiction

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