Contributor: Options Behavioral Health System clinical team member Erica Smith, MA, NCC
Drinking alcohol is a widely accepted, and almost expected, behavior for individuals over the age of 21 in American society today. And while there is nothing wrong with consuming alcohol in moderation when someone is of legal age, there are sadly many people who fall into the trap of alcoholism and become incapable of controlling the amount of alcohol that they consume on a regular, ongoing basis.
Most Don’t Have to Struggle, but Some Do
Many people enjoy having an alcoholic beverage after a stressful day at work or during various social gatherings and do not have to worry about whether or not it will be a struggle to stop drinking once the night has come to an end. Yet, there are unfortunately countless individuals who do face that struggle on a daily basis.
Alcoholism and Drinking Beyond the Ability to Function
Once a person has begun consuming alcohol at such an extensive rate or at such a high frequency that his or her ability to function appropriately has become impaired, it is a sure sign that an alcohol abuse problem has developed.
For these individuals, the habitual cycle of problematic drinking rapidly begins to result in significant disturbances in their occupational or academic lives, in their home lives, in their social lives, and within their interpersonal relationships.
Despite the onset of these negative repercussions, however, these people find that they are unable to cease their drinking.
Why Do Some Develop Alcoholism?
But why does this happen? Why are some people able to have an alcoholic beverage every now and then without giving it a second thought, while other people start by having an alcoholic drink every now and again only to then find that they have become consumed by the presence of an addiction to the substance?
There are a number of factors that play a role in whether or not individuals are susceptible to experiencing the onset of alcoholism.
A person’s genetic makeup, family history, and home environment can all ultimately affect the vulnerability that an individual has to developing an alcohol abuse problem. When alcohol is consumed, it directly affects the balance of chemicals and processes within a person’s brain.
The Role of Neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that exist in the brain that are responsible for sending messages from one area of the brain to another, become disrupted when alcohol crosses the blood-brain barrier, resulting in disturbances in the way a person thinks, feels, and acts. Concurrently, the stability of the brain’s neurotransmitters is required in order for a person to sustain appropriate emotional regulation and healthy psychological functioning.
This link between one’s overall mental health and the impact that alcohol has on it is important when coming to understand the correlation between alcoholism and its comorbidity with depression and anxiety.
Tolerance and Decreased Inhibition
As was previously mentioned, the consumption of alcohol elicits chemical changes in a person’s brain. For many people, alcohol brings about feelings of relaxation, heightened levels of self-confidence, and a decreased sense of inhibition.
However, when greater and greater amounts of alcohol are being consumed on an ongoing basis, these seemingly pleasurable effects can rapidly morph into ones that are much more negative in nature.
Serotonin and the Lack of Regulation in the Brain
As part of the chemical changes that can occur, drinking on a regular basis begins to lower the levels of serotonin that are present in the brain.
Being that serotonin is a chemical that works to aid in regulating a person’s mood, this ever-increasing absence can bring about detrimental alterations in one’s mood, ultimately heightening that person’s susceptibility to experiencing symptoms synonymous with depression, anxiety, and/or other mental health conditions.
Did the Co-Occurring Disorder Come First, or Did the Alcohol Cause It?
For some people, the onset of an addiction to alcohol becomes apparent before the presence of a mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, does.
For others, the distressing symptoms that they experience as a result of the presence of disorders like depression or anxiety lead them to search for something that will help alleviate their inner turmoil. This alleviation is often found in the consumption of alcohol as it works to numb the negative symptoms that they are facing on a daily basis.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that nearly 20% of Americans who are suffering from an anxiety disorder or depression, are also battling a co-occurring substance use disorder, including alcohol use disorder.
Treatment Options Are Available
Fortunately, there are many viable options for treatment that can help individuals who are struggling with co-occurring mental health conditions and chemical dependency issues, including the comorbid presence of alcoholism and anxiety or depression. Inpatient treatment is often the most beneficial way to start the treatment process for an addiction to alcohol because it provides individuals with a safe environment where they are sheltered from having access to alcohol, therefore preventing them from relapsing into their problematic patterns of alcohol use.
Receiving Care in the Withdrawal Stages
Furthermore, when an individual has engaged in excessive alcohol consumption for a prolonged period of time, he or she will experience a period of withdrawal once that consumption ceases.
By receiving care in an inpatient setting, this withdrawal process can be monitored by mental health professionals and medical personnel who can ensure the safety of these individuals until this toxic substance has been completely eliminated from their bodies. From there, appropriate therapeutic interventions can begin, whereupon people struggling with alcoholism can develop the tools necessary to achieve and maintain lasting sobriety.
About the Author:
The blog was written by Options Behavioral Health System clinical team member Erica Smith, MA, NCC. Erica has several years of experience working in the treatment field as a clinical therapist and has her Master’s degree in Clinical Counseling from the American School of Professional Psychology.
Options Behavioral Health System is the premier provider of behavioral healthcare and substance abuse services for adolescents, adults, and seniors in Indianapolis and its surrounding communities.
Offering programming that is tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual who is entrusted into our care, the warm and compassionate staff at Options is devoted to providing treatment that exceeds the standards of excellence with the ultimate goal of helping our patients return to a happy, healthy, and stable life, free from the grips of addiction.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on January 31, 2015
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 6, 2021
Published on AddictionHope.com