Alcohol is the most commonly consumed substance in the world. Due to the accessibility and social acceptance of alcohol, it is often perceived as being a harmless beverage that anyone can have a casual relationship with.
How addictive is alcohol really, and how can you tell if you are starting to develop an alcohol problem?
Is Alcohol a Drug?
Yes, alcohol is considered to be a drug, and a highly addictive one at that. It is a psychoactive substance that alters a person’s mood, behavior, and thinking by impacting the central nervous system, which is the definition of a drug.
Alcohol is a depressant, which means that alcohol slows down the central nervous system’s activity. Alcohol’s ability to change how you think and feel can lead to negative consequences in life.
Alcohol Compared to Other Drugs
Just because alcohol is so socially acceptable, doesn’t mean it is any less dangerous than other drugs. It is partially due to its high accessibility that alcohol is not regarded as being dangerous or harmful.
Alcohol is one of the top leading preventable cause of death in the US, and approximately 15 million Americans are addicted to alcohol.
Although alcohol is not necessarily any more addictive than other drugs, it causes more damage than many drugs due to its accessibility and normalization.
Alcohol directly causes a number of diseases, including various types of cancer, liver disease, and heart disease. It can also lead to car accidents due to drinking and driving, injuries, abuse, and more. Many people are not aware of these risks before they engage in drinking.
What Makes Alcohol Addictive?
Alcohol stimulates the release of dopamine and serotonin, which temporarily induce euphoric feelings of pleasure, and naturally provide pain relief. This makes alcohol attractive as a coping mechanism, or for having a good time.
Someone may start off drinking only in social settings, but discover that they like the way that they feel when they’re drinking, which leads them to want to drink more often.
Once a person adapts to frequent drinking, they can develop a tolerance to alcohol, meaning that they have to drink a higher amount in order to experience the same feelings as when they first started drinking.
Once a person hits this point, it’s much harder to quit drinking altogether, due to the withdrawal symptoms that can occur.
Why is Alcohol Socially Acceptable?
Society treats alcohol differently than it treats other drugs, even though alcohol can be just as harmful. But if alcohol is so addictive, why is it so normalized in society? In fact, alcohol is so normalized that it’s often perceived as strange if someone is at a social gathering without a drink in hand.
Alcohol & fun – Drinking has always been associated with having a good time. Alcohol is glorified in the media, and is used to celebrate happy occasions. Certain types of alcohol are also seen as prestigious.
Alcohol & relaxation – It’s very socially acceptable to “unwind” with a drink after a long day, or to relieve anxiety in social situations.
Alcohol is constantly used as a coping mechanism for dealing with a stressful day at work, or dealing with difficult emotions.
Ultimately, alcohol is so socially acceptable because it is legal, extremely accessible, and normalized throughout all forms of media. It is also a huge industry, which adds to the overall economy.
The Stages of Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction, like any drug addiction, is a gradual process that happens in five stages.
- Experimentation: During this phase, drinking may be explored for the first time or used sporadically in social settings.
- Regular Use: At this point, a person might start drinking more frequently, sometimes to deal with stress or other unpleasant emotions.
- Risky Use: An individual may begin to use alcohol in a risky way, such as driving while intoxicated or combining alcohol and other drugs.
- Tolerance/Dependence: At this point, a person may be physically and/or psychologically dependent on alcohol, which could cause withdrawal symptoms if drinking is abruptly discontinued.
- Addiction: Finally, when a person is addicted, they have a compulsive urge to consume alcohol and may do so despite knowing that it will have a negative impact on their health, their relationships, and their everyday lives. At this point, their alcohol consumption is something they have little to no control over.
How to Tell if You Have an Alcohol Problem
There are several signs that may indicate a problem with alcohol, including:
- Drinking more or for a longer period of time than intended.
- Having a strong craving or urge to drink.
- Attempting to cut down or stop drinking without success.
- Spending a significant amount of time drinking, recovering from the effects of alcohol, or thinking about drinking.
- Failing to meet important responsibilities at home, work, or school due to drinking.
- Continuing to drink even though it is causing problems in relationships or other areas of life.
- Experiencing physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms when alcohol use is stopped, such as tremors, sweating, or anxiety.
It’s important to note that symptoms may vary from person to person, and every situation is unique. In some cases, a person can be a functioning alcoholic, which makes it difficult for them and those around them, to recognize the alcohol problem.
Get Help for an Alcohol Addiction
If you feel that you or a loved one may have an alcohol problem, it’s crucial to seek professional help right away.
Paramount offers detox & stabilization for drug and alcohol addiction, as well as a sober living program that lasts up to 90 days. The sober living program consists of group therapy, individual therapy, peer support, and case management.
Our staff at Paramount are ready to assist you with any questions you may have regarding addiction and treatment. Contact our addiction specialists to learn more about how we can help you or your loved one on the road to recovery.