Why Is Alcohol Addictive? A Study of One of the Most Infamous Drugs

why is alcohol addictive

Shame is one of the most painful feelings you can experience.

Negative feelings are often a direct reflection of how we view ourselves in the world. Many alcoholics carry around shameful feelings about being unable to quit drinking on their own.

If you think you might have a problem with alcohol, you’re not alone. Did you know that 18 million American adults suffer from some type of alcoholism? Alcohol abuse can range from mild to moderate and can eventually become severe.

Society falsely believes that you can stop drinking by just having the willpower to make healthy choices. However, the truth is that having an addiction centers around having a lack of choice.

Read on to find out the answer to the question, “Why is alcohol addictive?”

Why Is Alcohol Addictive?

There are different physical and psychological factors that contribute to alcohol addiction. Individuals who abuse alcohol for a long period of time will need to have a drink just to feel “normal” again.

If you’re considering having an intervention for a friend or family member, it helps to understand the different types of addictions. When someone is having trouble being happy without alcohol, they might have a psychological addiction.

The two types of addiction are:

  • Psychological
  • Physical

If someone is experiencing withdrawal symptoms after a short period of not drinking, they may have a physical addiction.

Withdrawal symptoms can present themselves in many different ways. Common withdrawal symptoms include being nauseous, having trouble digesting food, anxiety, and shakiness.

More severe withdrawal symptoms can also include problems with hallucinations and even seizures.

During the detox process, vitamins and supplements can help minimize some of the physical withdrawal symptoms.

Next, we’ll explore how alcohol interacts with your brain once it’s in your system.


Why is alcohol addictive? Because your brain learns to need it.

Your body has an intricate system for sending messages. Our nerves are constantly communicating with each other to carry out bodily functions. The chemicals that help the nerves deliver their messages are called neurotransmitters.

Everyday functions like breathing, blinking, and swallowing would be impossible without neurotransmitters. There are two kinds of neurotransmitters in your body. One is to help you receive inhibitory messages, while the other expresses excitatory messages.

Inhibitory neurotransmitters work to help keep your brain calm. When you feel at peace, it’s because of the inhibitory messages your brain is receiving. However, when you feel alert, focused, and ready to learn, it’s a result of excitatory neurotransmitters stimulating your brain.


Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in your body. When you drink alcohol, your body increases it’s GABA production. That means your brain will become intensely inhibited. Your body becomes so at ease that simple tasks like walking, talking, and making memories become difficult — if not impossible.

The increased levels of GABA work to sedate your brain. The more alcohol that’s consumed, the more severely your brain will become inhibited.

After abusing alcohol for a few months or years, the brain begins to adapt to this abnormal state. In an attempt to survive, your brain starts to view the increased inhibition levels as normal.

Because your brain thinks the abnormal state is normal, it ramps up activity with your excitatory neurotransmitters. As a result, you’ll begin to develop a tolerance to alcohol. Individuals will have to drink larger amounts to feel the same calming effects they used to achieve after only having one or two drinks.


Dopamine is the other neurotransmitter alcohol has an effect on. Whenever your brain wants to reward you with pleasure, it releases dopamine. Dopamine helps you with pleasurable activities like eating, sleeping, and sex.

When you consume alcohol, your brain will release more dopamine. That’s because your brain is happy with the effects of alcohol. It notices you are calmer and happier and wants to reward this peaceful state of being with dopamine.

After abusing alcohol for a long period of time, you’ll damage your dopamine transporter and receptor sites. Your brain will begin to produce less and less dopamine over time. As a result, you’ll feel the need to drink larger amounts to receive the same pleasurable results.


Whenever you experience pain, your body naturally releases endorphins. Your body’s central nervous system is responsible for creating the tiny pain-fighting molecules.

Endorphins are mainly intended to help counteract physical pain. However, endorphins also counteract psychological pain by creating a state of euphoria.

Have you ever felt amazing after a long, sweaty workout? Chances are that during the workout, you were pushing your body to new and sometimes painful limits. In response to your discomfort, your brain released endorphins to help you feel better.

Different parts of your brain release endorphins. The two areas of your brain alcohol will release endorphins into are the orbitofrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens.

Both of these areas in your brain affect decision-making and addictive behavior. When your body releases endorphins into the nucleus accumbens, you’ll experience a high level of pleasure. The alcohol is able to trick your brain into believing drinking is a healthy and pleasurable activity.

Your brain will become used to receiving a rush of pleasure accompanied by a feeling of being at ease. Once your brain gets used to feeling high levels of pleasure, it begins to crave the effects of alcohol.

Finding a Way to Recover from Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol cravings can be sudden and unexpected or drag on throughout the entire day. High levels of stress and previous substance abuse can intensify the urge to drink. Social aspects and genetics also play a role in answering the question, “Why is alcohol addictive?”

If you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol abuse, you might wonder what you can do to help. Coastal Detox is happy to help answer all of your questions about how to recover from drug and alcohol addictions. We are Florida’s most comfortable drug and alcohol detox center.

Our goal is to provide you or your loved ones with soothing, holistic therapies in a safe and peaceful atmosphere. All of our treatments are medication-assisted to help eliminate the pain and discomfort of withdrawal.

You can learn about the immediate help we have to offer by using our contact us page. One of our compassionate team members will be happy to tell you about our different detox programs.

Content Reviewed by Jacklyn Steward

Jacklyn StewardJacklyn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and an EMDR trained trauma therapy specialist with over 6 years of experience in the field of addiction. She has a Masters Degree in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling from Nova Southeastern University.