Alcoholism affects 15 million adults in the United States, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Many people begin experimenting with alcohol in their early teen years, but because their brains are still in development through their early twenties, these young men and women are at risk for developing alcoholism or alcohol dependency. In fact, over half a million teens between the ages of 12 and 17 are already suffering from varying degrees of an alcohol abuse disorder. College cultures and local cultures encourage binge drinking or incorporate drinking as the norm, with 58 percent of college students reporting alcohol use, and 37 percent admitting to binge drinking.
There are different varieties of alcohol in existence, but the only one that is fit for humans to drink (in the form of beer, wine or cocktails) is known as ethanol. Ethanol is created when tiny microorganisms of yeast begin to break down fruit or grains, releasing carbon dioxide and ethanol through a process known as fermentation. Alcoholic beverages have been around for thousands of years, with the first known drink being served in China in 7000 B.C. From then on, brewing, distilling and winemaking practices grew and evolved into the cultural juggernaut that alcohol is today.
There have been plenty of studies about the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, from improving heart health to reducing strokes. But for people with an alcohol addiction, the potentially positive effects are far outweighed by the negative effects of overdrinking. In the U.S. alone, 88,000 people die every year from alcohol abuse, and 3.1 million worldwide.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?
Like any addictive substance, alcohol affects the neurotransmitters in your brain. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that convey messages between the neurons that control behavior, thought processes and movement. When alcohol is absorbed into the body, it increases the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA (which helps control feelings of fear and anxiety) and decreases the effects of glutamate (which controls learning and memory). At the same time, it increases dopamine, which is the chemical that activates the reward and pleasure center of your brain. When your brain realizes that it’s getting enough GABA, glutamate and dopamine artificially (via alcohol) on a regular basis, it decreases its natural production of those chemicals, causing you to need more alcohol more often in order to maintain your pleasurable feelings. Before you know it, you’re addicted.
Signs of Alcohol Addiction
- No control over how much they drink
- Significant time is spent both drinking and recovering from drinking
- Heavy reliance on alcohol to relax or relieve stress
- Alcohol becomes the focus of every activity
- Interest in hobbies and activities is replaced by drinking
- Drinking is constant – during the day or at work, even when alone
- It takes more or stronger alcohol to get a “buzz”
- Drinking continues despite potential harm to or loss of relationships or career
- Attempts to hide their drinking or lie about it
- When not drinking, withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, anxiety, and physical illness set in
If you see signs of addiction in yourself or a loved one, it’s time to seek treatment. For some, medical detox is necessary, depending on the severity of abuse and how recently alcohol was abused. Long-term treatment has been found to be the most effective way to ensure long term recovery and lifelong sobriety.
Effects of Alcohol on the Body
In the short term, alcohol can cause a number of side effects, including weight gain, increased cholesterol and blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Long-term overconsumption or abuse of alcohol does all of that, and also greatly increases your risk for:
- Cardiac issues
- Lowered cognitive function due to death of brain cells
- Nerve damage
- Skin problems
- Chronic illnesses
- Liver damage and cirrhosis
While some of these conditions are treatable and even reversible, some of them are extremely serious and can cause severe medical problems, and even death.
However a young man or woman begins to drink, for many, it becomes difficult to stop without help. Alcoholism, like all addiction, impairs function in both the body and the mind, and so you have a better chance at successfully achieving sobriety if you seek professional treatment. Sound Recovery Solutions proudly offers partial hospitalization treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, outpatient treatment and alumni services. We welcome both men and women experiencing all varieties of addictions and chemical dependencies in addition to secondary co-occurring mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and trauma.