Guide to Understanding Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol is a volatile, clear, organic liquid that is water soluble. The most common form people drink is Ethanol. Comprised of oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon makes it perfect for the body to absorb and cause abuse or addiction. Every cell in the body can absorb alcohol and it can be dangerously addictive for some. Alcohol addiction has plagued mankind for as far back as the Greeks, who wrote about it in their literature thousands of years ago. Battling alcohol addiction is not limited to age, gender, or social status. Anyone can become addicted to alcohol.

How Is Alcohol Addictive?

One of the most addictive substances known to man is alcohol. Studies indicate that one in every 11 people is addicted and millions more partake in risky binge drinking. There is no one-size-fits-all reason why one person becomes addicted and another does not. Many factors come into play regarding addiction to alcohol.

Alcohol and the Body

Once in the stomach, alcohol is absorbed quickly through the lining of the small intestine where it enters the bloodstream to be absorbed by the tissues of the body. The only tissue that does not absorb the alcohol is fat. The effects on the brain bring a sense of euphoria, relaxation, happiness, and lowered inhibitions. Many factors play a part in how the body absorbs the alcohol, how fast, and for how long it stays in the body.

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Weight
  • Height
  • How long someone has been drinking
  • How much someone drinks
  • Health status
  • Family history

The argument of whether having food in the stomach helps absorb the alcohol or not still rages. Some studies show that eating before or during consumption does lower absorption by the body, and some studies say it does not.

How the Brain Is Affected

The brain is comprised of many aspects. The chemical signals called, neurotransmitters are most affected by drinking. They deliver a tiny electrical charge or message to nerve cells, impacting the nerve’s impulses. One type of neurotransmitter is Dopamine, which sends signals to the pleasure and reward areas. Another is Glutamate, which controls the nervous system like excitement, learning, and memory. Drinking alcohol releases more Dopamine and slows glutamate activity. Combined, the effect is increased euphoria and decreased anxiety.


Endorphins are proteins that the body produces normally. Some act like opiates. Drinking causes these endorphins to congregate in the nucleus accumbens in the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain. This area has been linked to addictive behavior and decision-making. These neurotransmitters and endorphins can become supercharged and make the desire to drink stronger.

The Body’s Organs

Every organ of the body is affected. Studies show that having a few drinks occasionally does no real damage, and is considered to be relatively safe for most people. Longtime abuse or binge drinking can cause damage to many of the organs like:

• The heart, causing a higher risk for cardiomyopathy, high blood pressure, and arrhythmia.
• The liver, by inflaming the tissue with conditions like fibrosis, alcoholic hepatitis, Cirrhosis, and a fatty liver.
• The pancreas, by preventing the ability to regulate insulin.
• The brain, by shrinking it and possibly causing strokes.

Alcohol addiction can also cause cancer of the mouth, the esophagus, and the breast. Over time, drinking can damage every organ in the body.

Men vs Women

Generally speaking, men tend to have more muscle tissue and woman tend to have more fat tissue. Muscle has more water than fat and will dilute the alcohol more. This means that for the same drink, men do not absorb as much as women. The alcohol will stay in the fat tissue, which affects women sooner and stays longer in her body. Women also have fewer enzymes that break down the alcohol than men.

Differences Between Addiction and Abuse

There is a fine line between abuse and addiction. Knowing the difference between safe consumption, abuse, and addiction can help if someone needs to seek professional help with a drinking problem.


If drinking starts to cause problems in someone’s life, this could be abuse. Maybe they go to jail for driving under the influence (DUI), or their relationship starts to fall apart, their work or schooling suffers, or they have legal fees associated with drinking. Here are a few signs of alcohol abuse:

• Promiscuity, while drinking.They engage in dangerous sexual behaviors.
• Drinking while engaged in important activities, such as on the job, at school, or while caring for children.
• Fighting with family or friends about drinking and drinking even though they’ve been asked not to do it.
• Spending money for alcohol that was meant for bills or other important matters.

People who abuse alcohol might not think they have a problem because maybe they don’t do it every day, or they never miss work. Abusing alcohol is harder to identify than addiction.


Alcohol is addictive, that is a fact. Addiction to drinking is more severe than abuse. Although both are dangerous, knowing the signs of addiction are vital to breaking the cycle and getting sober. The addicted are dependent on alcohol, and they cannot just simply stop drinking without help. A few of the signs of addiction can include:

• They must drink more and more to feel the effects.
• They hide how much they drink.
• They lie about how much they drink.
• They cannot control how much or when they drink.
• Drinking makes them feel well. Not drinking makes them feel sick.

When someone is addicted to alcohol, they cannot quit, even when they try. The body’s dependency makes stopping very difficult. Anyone suffering from alcohol abuse or addiction should seek help and treatment. There is life after addiction.