Is alcoholism a disease? One of the reasons why so many people are apprehensive to classify it as an illness is that it doesn’t act like any other sickness. Another factor is that many with this condition deny its existence and don’t want treatment. The fact is that alcoholism is a chronic, progressive, and even at times, a fatal health problem. The mental obsession with these beverages makes the user drink in compulsive manners.
Have you ever heard a television jingle that you can’t get out of your head? It’s stuck in there, and you sing it repeatedly. It doesn’t matter how you try to distract yourself; that tune was still swirling around in your brain. Something in your head wouldn’t let go of that song, and you had a mental fixation with it. Did you know that mental obsessions are thoughts that you have no control over? Now, you understand how an alcoholic feels. They are powerless to these beverages, and the only way they can get things to calm down is to take another drink. While hearing a jingle from a commercial is harmless, taking a drink after drink can be quite troubling. The urge to become inebriated is so strong that they cannot control it.
The Neuroscience of Substance Abuse
When a person uses drugs or alcohol repetitively, these substances alter the brain. The area of your mind that controls behavior, pleasure, stress, and learning, is all within the same region. So, toxic substances cause the brain’s circuits to misfire. People who have been drinking for extended periods won’t act the same as before their addiction began. Is alcoholism a disease? Anything that has the power to alter the brain in such ways is an illness of significant magnitude.
Repeated Use Affects Dopamine Levels
Having alcoholism is no different than a person who is addicted to drugs like heroin or cocaine. Each drink surges the brain’s reward centers, which is the basal ganglia. The reward center is full of nerve cells, but with continued use, the nerve cells weaken. When the nerve cell’s power diminishes, the sensitivity to these substances reduce. So a person needs more alcohol to produce the same effects. It’s common for alcoholics to drink massive amounts to feel that same euphoric high. Alcohol affects dopamine neurotransmitters, which allow you to feel pleasure. When someone has a mental illness, they are given antidepressants to balance these defective transmitters. To the alcoholic, it means that they need more alcohol to do anything in their life. They can’t go to a picnic or even their child’s school play without making sure they have their “medication.” Alcohol changes the way they feel, and they soon become dependent on those feelings for survival.
Understanding Drinking Cues
Chronic drinking causes cues as a person develops rituals around their alcoholism. They will have certain friends they drink with specific places they frequent, and they may even have a particular container that they need to use. It’s all part of the connection they feel to the elixir. Soon, many different cues in their life are directly linked to alcohol, so there’s almost nothing that doesn’t remind them of their favorite drink. Most people drink alcohol to self-medicate. They want to avoid unpleasant and painful experiences. Alcohol affects the amygdala region of your mind, and it’s what compels you to act or react. The person involved in substance abuse and alcohol disrupts the brain’s normal function, which allows them to forget about the things that trouble them.
The Overwhelming Pain of Withdrawal
As with any disease, as alcoholism progresses, the drinking problem goes from mild to moderate, and then it becomes severe. When a person doesn’t have a drink, they will become distressed and can experience relapse especially during stressful situations. Withdrawal signs start almost immediately and can be both painful and uncomfortable. When you get to the severe stage in your addiction, you no longer drink for the pleasure it brings. Rather, you drink to keep yourself from experiencing any of the painful withdrawal symptoms. There are no more highs, as they become fixated on chasing the symptoms away.
The Cycle of Addiction
As a person with a dependency issue continues to drink, they build a tolerance. The threshold for what it takes to get the same high becomes higher. Their dependency will take them to low places where things that once pleased them will be unable to satisfy their longing. Surprisingly, an alcoholic can be relatively healthy, but they cannot control the strong urge for another drink. Their judgment and decision-making skills are now impaired as their brain has been altered. Even though they know that they shouldn’t take another sip and stopping their habit is best, they can’t get off the vicious cycle that controls them. Alcoholics don’t know what’s going on because their disease is so progressive. They may start by needing a drink with dinner, then soon it becomes two, then four, then six drinks each day. Before long, the only time they can stop is when they pass out.
Sadly, the disease’s progression is so subtle that they don’t even realize what the toxic substance is doing to their body. They don’t notice that they have lost control, and the alcohol is ruling their life. The universal symptom of alcoholism is denial, and it’s sad because help is just a phone call away. Some equate addiction to getting off a merry-go-round at the fair. It seems to go on and on, and then the only way to be free is to jump! If you or someone you know battles addiction, there is hope and help available to you. You don’t have to live another day as you have been. You can break the ties that bind and start a new life. All it takes is admitting you have a problem and being determined to fix it.