Why is Alcohol So Addictive?

People with a substance use disorder, like alcoholism, will likely always be tempted to consume more and, if left unchecked, way too much of it. In 2015, 66.7 million people in the United States reported binge drinking in the past month.

However, despite the potential disasters and embarrassing consequence they face, most alcoholics tend to fight the thought that they can’t control alcohol consumption on their own. They think they can keep it from being harmful…to themselves and others.1

Perhaps learning more about societal expectations and why alcohol is so addictive can help shed light on why professional resources are, in most cases, absolutely necessary for recovery. Quality treatment, like that found at Michael’s House, can guide those who are caught in social traps and the cycle of addiction find their way back to their “authentic self” and out of harm’s way.

Social Influences

Women toasting beersMost adult parties offer some alcoholic beverage options. Wedding receptions typically involve raising a glass of champagne to toast to the new couple’s future. Many people ring in the new year with alcohol. Even dinner parties and dining out oftentimes involve a glass or two, if not a bottle.

Over time, due to the relentless push to drink, people may become convinced that social occasions simply must include alcohol. As a result, the cues to drink can become overpowering. And, unfortunately, drinking to excess often follows.2

In addition to being the “perfect accompaniment” for many occasions, alcohol carries with it some specific attributes that serve other purposes at parties. Research suggests that alcohol can numb the mind in such a way that people forget about their usual inhibitions and concerns. A report in Addictive Behavior refers to this phenomenon as “alcohol myopia.” In this state, people are temporarily relieved of anxiety and depression. They may be more social and pleasant to converse with. Alcohol can also make feel more important or confident. People who have underlying depression issues or social phobias may develop addictions to alcohol as a result of their attempt to self-medicate their undesirable conditions.3

Chemical Influences

Besides the behavioral changes that alcohol can bring about, alcohol can also cause changes at a chemical level within the body. These internal alterations can also be addictive.

Medical brain illustrationResearch suggests that alcohol increases the production of endorphins. These are the brain’s natural painkillers. They are also associated with pleasure and reward. They tend to accumulate within the portions of the brain linked to addictive behaviors.

In essence, alcohol can make the brain tell lies. The brain says there’s an intense amount of pleasure going on when alcohol is consumed. In reality,however, there is no external cause for this response. At the same time, alcohol is turning off portions of the brain that handle other important functions, like impulse control and decision making. Together, this chemical activity can lead to even more drinking. 4

An interesting study published in Science Translational Medicine found that people who drink heavily have higher spikes in endorphins compared to people who are not heavy drinkers. This means that alcohol promotes more drinking (and other strange behavior) when consumption is high. The concept of “reinforcement” is important in addiction medicine. High levels of a drug can cause severe damage to various organs in the body. Compulsive use oftentimes ramps up and, with it, more physical harm.5

However, alcohol does have some attributes that can help people stop overuse. This includes:

  • Nausea
  • Lack of muscle control
  • Sedation
  • Slowed breathing and heart rate

So, people may find themselves physically unable to keep drinking. If they can keep from throwing up or nodding off, an extreme chemical reward cue triggered by the alcohol might allow them to keep on drinking. This might lead to a horrific end.6

It should also be noted that alcohol can impact men and women in different ways. Some research suggests that chemical changes may happen easier in women. The addictive effects of alcohol may hit them harder than men.7

Finding Your Way Back to Reality

Michael's House Men's Center EntranceEven with all the research related to substance use disorders, finding your way out of alcoholism comes down to making hard choices. But the future can be bright for those who choose wisely.

If you or a loved one is addicted to alcohol, we’d like to apply our knowledge and skills to helping you get better. At Michael’s House, our world-class facility applies cutting-edge science to develop new and innovative treatment programs to help our patients. But that doesn’t mean that tried-and-true techniques, such as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings,are thrown out the window. No, we are too pragmatic for that. Anything that can help our patients is up for consideration. And we consider the “whole person” when customizing a treatment program for each unique individual. We invite you to contact us on our toll-free line to speak to an admissions coordinator and start heading down the path toward health and happiness now.


Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health.” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. 2016. Web. Accessed 25 July 2017.

2Building Your Drink Refusal Skills.” Rethinking Drinking, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.Web. Accessed 25 July 2017.

3Alcohol, Violence, and the Alcohol Myopia Model: Preliminary Findings and Implications for Prevention.” Addictive Behavior, Volume 36, Number 10, Pages 1019-1022. October 2011.Web. Accessed 25 July 2017.

4Neurobiology of Alcohol Dependence.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.Web. Accessed 25 July 2017.

5Clue as to Why Alcohol Is Addicting: Scientists Show that Drinking Releases Brain Endorphins.” Science News. 12 January 2012.Web. Accessed 25 July 2017.

6 Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health.” National Center for Biotechnology Information.Web. Accessed 25 July 2017.

7Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Use.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, September 2016.Web. Accessed 25 July 2017.

8Brief Interventions and Brief Therapies for Substance Abuse.” National Center for Biotechnology Information.Web. Accessed 25 July 2017.


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