Friday, July 1, 2011

Why is alcohol addictive?

Alcohol is a rather unusual substance and people consume it since the beginning of the human civilization. However, scientists say if Alcohol was found today, it would be certainly a banned substance (FDA would have definitely banned it).

Properties of Alcohol

Alcohol is a simple molecule, but it shows some remarkable properties and actions on neuroreceptors that cause addiction.
1. Alcohol acts on GABA type A receptor via benzodiazepine site. Therefore, alcohol has the actions of Vallium or Xanax
2. Alcohol acts on opioid receptors in the brain: - This causes euphoria and effects of heroin. But in a less intense way.
3. Alcohol acts on the dopamine system of the brain: - This is similar to Cocaine.
4. Alcohol in larger doses acts as a general anesthetic
Source: The National Institute on Drug Abuse, ...
Image via Wikipedia
5. Alcohol has some properties of SSRI or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors: Therefore it causes increased energy and alleviates depression but for a greater cost.

What is the brain reward system?

Knowledge about the brain’s reward system is necessary to understand why alcohol is so addictive.
In human brain there is a reward system in place to motivate us. It activates when you eat, have sex, and achieve something. It makes you feel good. In addition, human brain learns about these rewards and attaches memories surrounding these events. This helps us to pursuit our goals.

Problem with alcohol is that it activates the brains reward system artificially and it is much more intense than the natural rewards. Then the brain pathologically learns about alcohol and its surroundings (sight of a bar, friends who drinks and surrounding circumstances).

Since alcohol activates reward system, addicted person will ignore natural ways to get his pleasures resulting in loss of employment, loss of academic performance and relationship problems.

In addition, when he sees a bar or meets a friend who took alcohol with him causes activation of the memories of the reward system that make him seek alcohol. It is a strong desire and most people cannot control it, even they decided to get rid of alcohol.

What is Alcohol withdrawal?

Since alcohol has many pharmacological actions on the brain’s neuroreceptors, human brain adapts to long term alcohol intake by way of changing its own chemistry. Then there would be a new equilibrium between alcohol and anti-alcohol chemistry in the brain. Therefore, when alcohol is suddenly withdrawn these anti – alcohol forces become unopposed and causes severe withdrawal reaction. This withdrawal reaction makes the addicted person to take alcohol.

Sometimes the withdrawal reaction is so strong it can even kill the person, if withdrawal is tried without medical help.

Therefore, it is highly advisable to take medical help when long term alcohol user is stopping alcohol.

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