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What Makes Alcohol Addictive?

Dillon McClernon

Authored by Dillon McClernon

The Addictive Factors in Alcohol and Why It Prompts Alcohol and Drug Rehab

Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in America today, but exactly what makes alcohol addictive? According to the NCADD, 17.6 million people in the United States suffer from alcohol dependence or chronic alcohol abuse. That’s about one in twelve adults, with many more engaging in unhealthy binge drinking habits that can develop into alcoholism.

If you have witnessed someone deal with alcohol use disorder, you know finding a way to help can be challenging. The truth is, people drink for different reasons, so there is not one single solution; treatment that works for one patient may not work for another. Ultimately, both physical and psychological addictive factors come into play when overcoming addiction.

What Makes Alcohol Addictive: Physical vs Psychological Factors

Physical Factors

Drinking alcohol stimulates the release of dopamine and endorphins within the brain. These are the chemicals that produce feelings of pleasure and satisfaction and act as a natural painkiller. Studies have shown that genetic factors come into play when determining how alcohol reacts in the brains of different people. Specifically, some people’s brains released more pleasure chemicals in response to alcohol, making them more susceptible to physical dependency.

Alcohol use can actually make physical changes in the brain’s chemistry and functioning, which plays a big part in what makes alcohol addictive. The brain’s reward and pleasure centers are overloaded, and the user experiences cravings to repeat those experiences.  Although someone may have the intention to stop, alcohol can compromise impulse control and decision making, which makes relapse more likely. What starts as alcohol abuse can quickly and easily change to alcohol dependence.


Alcoholism, like other addictions, is ultimately a learned behavior, and a person’s thoughts and beliefs come into play. For example, someone who doesn’t believe in treatment and recovery is unlikely to put forward the effort necessary to successfully complete treatment. A person’s developmental maturity can also be a contributing factor.

Stress can also play a major role in addiction, with alcohol providing a temporary and unhealthy solution from those uncomfortable feelings or stress. This coping mechanism can become a habit that seems impossible to break. In addition to alcohol and drug rehab, psychotherapy can help with motivation and stress-reduction and should be one part of the recovery process. In fact, people who are dependent on alcohol have higher rates of other psychiatric disorders than the general population.  In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “about 20% of Americans with an alcohol or substance use disorder also have an anxiety or mood disorder.”


People who are addicted to alcohol and suddenly stop drinking undergo a detoxification process that can have a number of physical and psychological symptoms. These include:

  • Nausea
  • Hand tremors/“the shakes”
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures

The withdrawal process is very challenging and difficult to go through, as the brain and body crave the level of alcohol they are accustomed to receiving. Avoiding withdrawal is a strong motivator for an alcoholic to continue to drink. This can create a vicious cycle, where the alcoholic drinks to avoid the stress of withdrawal.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use disorder, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Our team of drug and alcohol addiction treatment experts are available 24/7 at 877-520-9659.

Authored by

Dillon McClernon

Dillon McClernon

Dillon currently serves as the Senior Director of Sales and Marketing at RCA. After his tenure as Chief Communications Officer and senior advisor to RCA, he opted for a full-time position at RCA where he could build a new team linking sales and marketing to directly impact RCA’s mission of saving 1 million lives.


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