Moderate drinkers can consume alcohol and go days, weeks, or even years before they have another drink. Alcoholics cannot. When someone has an addiction to alcohol, drinking becomes an essential part of their life. Alcoholics might even prioritize drinking over family obligations, work, financial responsibilities, and social gatherings with friends. In many ways, consuming alcohol becomes their main focus. At times, they may want to try to stop drinking alcohol, but they often fail to do so, causing family members and close friends to wonder why their loved one can’t stop drinking like a “normal person.” At some point, alcoholics might even question why they drink as heavily and often as they do. Regardless of their age, race, and gender, all alcoholics have a compulsive need to drink. Let’s explore why.
Alcoholism is the most severe form of alcohol abuse. The condition, which is also a chronic disease, is characterized by an inability to manage drinking habits. That’s why alcoholics find it seemingly impossible to control how much and how often they drink. In fact, by the time alcoholism develops, alcoholics are physically and emotionally dependent on alcohol. In other words, alcoholics feel like they need to drink in order to feel “normal” and function “well.” That belief, fueled by a dependence on alcohol, compels them to keep drinking even when friends and family members want them to stop or they try to quit drinking on their own. Usually, the attempt to feel and function “normally” becomes an alcoholic’s reason for drinking.
There isn’t one particular reason why alcoholics drink. Dr. Victor Karpyak explained it this way: “Alcoholism is not a one-size-fits-all condition. So the answer to the question of why alcoholics drink is probably that there is no single answer.”
In other words, different alcoholics drink for different reasons. But researchers have narrowed down some of the common reasons alcoholics drink, which include:
According to a 2008 study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), genetic factors account for 40 to 60 percent of the difference between people who have a risk for alcoholism and those who do not. The study also revealed that there are specific genes that contribute to alcohol use disorder. Most of the genes correlate with the brain’s reward center. Some people, for example, have genes that allow them to metabolize alcohol in a way that increases the pleasure they experience when drinking, making them more likely to drink more. This can predispose them to heavy drinking and alcoholism. Other people have genes that alter their rate of alcohol metabolism, causing them to have symptoms like flushing, nausea, mood swings, and a rapid heartbeat, making them more likely to avoid alcohol.
The brain has a delicate balance of chemicals called neurotransmitters. Excessive drinking disrupts this balance and changes the way these chemicals function. Drinking alcohol increases gaba-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which suppresses the central nervous system, the part of the body that regulates thoughts and helps us process information. At the same time, drinking alcohol increases serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps us feel good, and triggers the release of dopamine, another neurotransmitter that motivates us to keep drinking. Most alcoholics have developed this chemical imbalance. Their constant drinking lessens their ability to process and reason but also makes them feel good. As a result, they continue to drink. Eventually, the brain becomes accustomed to this chemical imbalance, causing individuals to drink more in order to experience the “feel -good” feeling they had before.
Most alcoholics drink to satisfy cravings and avoid alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Once the brain becomes accustomed to the presence of alcohol, the mind believes it needs alcohol to feel pleasure, prompting a compulsive urge, or craving, to drink. When the craving isn’t satisfied, the body experiences withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary, but some of the most common include irritability, depression, sweating, mood swings, headaches, tremors, nightmares, mood swings, anxiety, nausea, cravings for alcohol, and vomiting. More severe withdrawal symptoms can include fever, seizures, high blood pressure, and hallucinations. Typically, alcoholics drink and continue to drink to avoid these unpleasant symptoms.
A lot of alcoholics drink because they want to feel good and escape unpleasantness. “Research indicates that many people drink to enhance pleasant feelings,” Dr. Victor Karpyak explained, “while other people drink to suppress negative moods, such as depression and anxiety.” Behavioral health experts call these reasons, especially attempting to suppress negative emotions, self-medication. When alcoholics use alcohol to help manage mental health issues, they’re self-medicating. According to reports published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 37 percent of alcohol abuse have at least one serious mental illness. Approximately 50 percent of people living with mental health conditions use addictive substances like drugs and alcohol. Alcoholics who drink as a form of self-medication might:
Alcoholics who self-medicate also drink to experience and enhance pleasure. Oftentimes, drinking to escape negative emotions isn’t enough to make an alcoholic “feel better” so they keep drinking until they experience pleasure.
Here at Genesis Recovery, we know that there are many reasons why people misuse and abuse alcohol. We also know that regardless of the reasons why people drink, alcoholism can be treated and that alcoholics can begin again. Our holistic approach to treating alcohol addiction includes four key components: clinical support, the 12-step program, lifestyle activities, and practices to nurture the soul, and a faith-based community.
Long-term sobriety is possible. Let us help you get there. Call us today at 619-797-7319 if you, a loved one, or a close friend have alcohol addiction challenges.