Experts indicate that just under 10% of American citizens have a problem controlling their consumption of alcohol. Because liquor is so closely tied to many festive and celebratory events in our society, we tend to view alcohol as a source of positivity, fun and even joy. Unfortunately, this focus on the fun aspect of alcohol makes it hard for us to look at the damage that alcohol addiction does to those around us.
Why is alcohol addictive? Alcohol impact the chemical make-up of your brain. It will lower your inhibitions; some people find that alcohol makes them feel more confident. It will increase the production of dopamine, or the pleasure chemical, after it is absorbed through the small intestine into the bloodstream.
When Desire Becomes Need
The risky part of using any addictive product is when desire becomes need. As noted above, drugs and alcohol trigger our dopamine production and receptors, flooding our brains with “feel good” chemicals. The next time we use the product, we produce less dopamine as the body tries to balance out the impact of the drug.
Over time, our dopamine receptors will actually shut down. It takes more of the drug to achieve the initial rush. Our bodies start to become accustomed to alcohol, then to need it. Instead of having a drink to relax, we now need to first have a drink to soothe the agitation of craving before we can have a drink to relax. You may be thinking about that first after work drink as soon as you leave the office.
Then the craving bumps up; you think about it during afternoon meetings, then during lunch, then as soon as you get to your desk in the morning. Over time, alcohol starts to push its way into our list of necessary items for living. It becomes part of our budget; even if times are tight, there’s money for alcohol. It becomes part of our schedule.
We can’t go to an after school event with our kids by 7 if we don’t have time for a drink between 5:30 and 6. Because consuming alcohol is a rite of passage, we can’t enjoy a birthday or an anniversary or even a weekend without a drink. Because alcohol is a depressant, you may come to need it to sleep. Even though alcohol turns out to be disruptive to our sleeping patterns, we may still feel the need for alcohol’s numbing effects to quiet our sleeping brains. We may also feel that alcohol helps us digest our food, particularly a heavy meal. Because the absorption of alcohol is slowed by heavy, fatty foods, it makes sense that we enjoy a slower release of alcohol into our systems.
A big meal stretches out the buzz and may make it easier to justify having another drink. We are culturally awash in alcohol, which is one of the big challenges for those working hard to stop or even cut back drinking. We meet at bars to
- connect with friends
- meet business associates
- hook up with a new romantic partner
Sitting at the bar without a drink makes you look like an oddball. Unless you know the bartender and can establish between the two of you that a club soda and a lime is your “usual” you may find your time in a bar quite isolating.
If you look forward to Friday night because you can have dinner and a drink with friends, the celebratory aspect of Friday increases. Sadly, we often look to alcohol to fix some problem that it may have actually caused. If our marriage falls apart due in part to the damage done by one partner’s drinking, we reach out to and meet a new person in a bar.
We get into legal trouble because we drove under the influence and have our driving options limited to work and home. What do you do when you’re stressed out and bored? You may very well choose to drink more. If alcohol is becoming a necessity in your daily life, it’s time to consider whether it’s helping you or hurting you. Even someone who only drinks on the weekends can be developing an alcohol dependence that could lead to addiction. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day. Call 855-334-6120.