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How Alcohol Addiction Affects the Brain

Alcoholism is a brain illness and is recognised as such by scientists and health experts across the world, although many people still believe that alcohol addiction is what happens to those who have no willpower or who make poor choices. It is important to point out that alcoholism is not a choice; nobody chooses to become an alcoholic. It simply makes no sense that anyone would. Alcohol is a chemical substance and repeated ingestion of it can alter the structure of the brain. But before we look at how alcohol addiction affects the brain, it is a good idea to discuss your situation and determine whether you could have a problem that requires professional help.

Are You an Alcoholic?

The question of whether you have an alcohol problem or not is one that requires an answer before you can even consider getting help. Many individuals are unable to comprehend the fact that they could have a problem with this legal and enjoyable substance. After all, everyone drinks, right?

It is true that most adults do drink alcohol to some degree, but the majority never allow their consumption to get out of control. They enjoy a drink or two but do not drink to excess and do not get intoxicated regularly.

However, for some, alcohol becomes a problem. Instead of making a conscious decision to have a glass of wine after work on a Friday evening, these individuals get to a point where they want to consume a glass of wine every night after work. These feelings of want are soon replaced by feelings of need and the person is now increasing the amount of wine they drink to two glasses every night. Does this sound familiar to you?

Are you regularly drinking alcohol and getting drunk? Do you need more alcohol than you used to in order to get drunk? Do you wake up in the morning with little knowledge of things you did or said the night before? If so, then you might have a problem and it could be time to get help. Your alcohol consumption has led to changes in your brain that have made it harder and harder for you to resist the pull of alcohol. So how does alcohol, and more specifically alcohol addiction, affect the brain?

How Did You Reach this Point?

If you have come to the realisation that alcohol is a problem in your life, you may be wondering how this happened. One day, you were drinking alcohol in moderation and now here you are, drinking every day and thinking about alcohol all the time. How did you reach this point in your life? Surely you were not born an alcoholic?

You do not wake up one morning with an addiction to alcohol, having been perfectly fine the day before. It does not work this way. What happens to initiate alcoholism are a series of changes to the structure of the brain that cause the person to have no control over his or her ability to make good decisions.

Repeated use of alcohol can lead to a variety of structural changes to the brain. The more alcohol a person drinks, the more likely it is that he or she will build up an increased tolerance to its effects. This means that more alcohol will be required in order for that person to achieve the feelings desired. The brain adapts itself to the presence of alcohol, and the person’s ability to make good choices is weakened further. The body begins to crave alcohol and the individual is powerless to resist.

The Effect of Alcohol on the Brain

The billions of neurons found in the brain are responsible for absolutely everything a person does. These neurons work together billions of times every second to direct a person’s thinking, breathing and everything else that he or she does. Messages are passed from one neuron to another across gaps called synapses. As the message travels the length of one neuron and comes to a synapse, the brain will release neurotransmitters (chemicals) to allow each message to pass from one neuron to the next. The type of neurotransmitter that is released will depend on the message being passed.

The body’s ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter is known as dopamine, and it is this chemical that is released by the brain in response to activities that make the person feel good. These activities include eating, having sex, and, of course, drinking alcohol. The first time a person drinks alcohol, the brain will release a surge of dopamine, which makes the person feel warm and content. Because dopamine release is also connected to the brain’s reward system, most people will like the feelings they get and will want to drink again.

Nevertheless, in some individuals, alcohol can take-over the brain’s reward system and can cause an overstimulation that leads to an excessive release of dopamine chemicals. The person will feel really good when drinking alcohol and will want those feelings to be reproduced repeatedly.

In the early days, the person will probably be able to exert control over his or her drinking. Alcohol consumption will be a social activity and will not interfere with the individual’s day to day life. Nonetheless, if the person continues drinking and the brain is continuously being overstimulated, the control that individual has over his or her alcohol consumption will begin to diminish.

As time goes by, several complex changes will occur in the brain. Dopamine production will decrease and various pathways in the brain could become damaged. These pathways tend to be in the brain’s frontal lobe – the area that is responsible for decision making. The changes that occur in the brain cause the individual’s behaviour to change. He or she may begin to exhibit alcohol-seeking urges. These urges will get stronger and stronger, to the point where the person is unable to resist. They take over everything and start to push in front of other things in the individual’s life, including their loved ones and their responsibilities at work.

The need for alcohol becomes the most important thing in the affected person’s life and he or she is compelled to drink even when knowing that doing so will cause many problems for them and their family members. The brain has adapted itself around the person’s need for alcohol and any control that he or she once had over their consumption is lost. They are no longer capable of making rational decisions.

Can the Changes Made by Alcohol be Reversed?

In the early days, it is known that many of the structural changes that addiction causes to the brain can be reversed, but as time goes by and the individual continues to abuse the chemical substance, many of these changes become permanent.

However, all is not lost because scientists have also discovered that recovery can also change the structure of the brain – for the better. It is possible to remould the brain around recovery and to develop new pathways to help counter the negative changes that addiction has caused.

Just as the changes that occurred to the brain during addiction did not happen overnight, the changes to the brain that ensue during recovery will not occur overnight either. Rehabilitation is a lengthy process and people need to be aware that this process takes time and patience.

Nevertheless, committing to a programme of recovery and being prepared to make the necessary changes to maintain sobriety will result in positive changes to the brain. As the brain heals, the person’s ability to stay sober will become stronger and stronger. After a while, sobriety will become the norm and he or she will not have to work so hard to stay clean.

It may sound simple, but the best way to encourage the brain to change for the better is with the power of positive thinking. Focusing on positive thoughts and actions can lead to changes in how the brain works.

There are many things that the recovering addict needs to focus on, such as avoiding stress and any triggers or cues that might signal a return to alcohol use. Basically, negative thoughts should be replaced by positive ones. Doing this will encourage new pathways to develop and these pathways will not revolve around addiction. The longer the person is doing this, the greater the results will be.

As time goes by, the individual will notice that his or her thoughts are no longer preoccupied with alcohol and drinking. There will be fewer negative thoughts buzzing around in the head and more positive ones; sobriety will become the norm and cravings will virtually disappear.

Where to Get Help for Addiction

It is important to remember that while some people can actually stop drinking on their own, most will require professional help to overcome their alcohol addiction. To achieve long-term success, it is necessary to complete a comprehensive recovery programme. This will include a programme of detoxification in the first instance, followed by rehabilitation and aftercare.

By incorporating all three elements into your recovery plan, you will have a much stronger sobriety and will have learned the skills required to stay sober going forward. Your chances of relapse will be lowered and you will have a fantastic support network that you can rely on to keep you on the straight and narrow.

If you are interested in finding out about things such as how alcohol addiction affects the brain or anything related to addiction help, please contact us here at UK Rehab today. It is our goal to make sure that all clients can quickly and easily access a treatment provider where their needs will be met and where they will have every chance of a full recovery from addiction.

We can put you in touch with a treatment provider where you can enter a programme of detoxification to help you get clean and sober in safety and comfort. We can also find a suitable rehabilitation provider where you can access an inpatient or outpatient programme depending on your requirements.

Please call us now for information on our service and how we can help you to turn your life around. Our dedicated helpline is available 24-hours a day, so no matter what time of the day or night, we are here for you.

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