What Makes Alcohol So Addictive?

Binge drinking is a common habit among Americans, as the latest research demonstrates. It’s as dangerous as full-blown alcoholism, thanks to the health effects and dangers associated with drinking more than four or five alcoholic drinks in a sitting – the definition of binge drinking. About one in six Americans indulges in the practice, according to reports by the Associated Press, and the consequences are no mystery. So why is it that Americans still can’t get their drinking under control? What is so addictive about alcohol?

How Alcohol Functions in the Brain

According to new research out of the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center, at the University of California, San Francisco, when you drink alcohol, endorphins are released in the brain – happy chemicals. Endorphins are responsible for making you feel pleasure, but it’s actually where they are released that is important – the nucleus accumbens, the part of the brain that has been linked to addictive behavior and decision making. Experience pleasure and reward in relation to a particular decision – like drinking alcohol – then you’re likely to want to repeat the experience. This desire to repeat a behavior can develop into cravings, one of the key components of addiction.

Heavy Drinkers’ Response to Alcohol

The release of endorphins in the brain and the compulsion to drink more to recreate that feeling is even more pronounced in those who drink heavily. The more they drink, the more endorphins are released, the happier they feel and the more likely they are to crave alcohol. When cravings meet physical dependence, binge drinking or alcohol abuse turns into alcohol addiction.

Other Factors

It may not just be the endorphins. A study reported by BBC News says that drinking alcohol causes a release of dopamine, another happy chemical, as well. Again, the issue is that drinkers feel good when they drink – the more they drink, the better they feel – and they want to replicate that feeling when they can. This makes binge drinking especially attractive to those who are functional (e.g., maintain a job, have a family, etc.), but binge drinking can quickly turn into alcohol addiction – or be the cause of an accident that can be dangerous or deadly to the drinker or someone they care about.


Alcohol abuse, binge drinking and alcoholism are all treatable issues. When do you know it’s time to find addiction treatment services? When any one of those issues becomes a problem in your life and you are unable to quit drinking even when you try. If this describes you or someone you care about, contact us today. We can help you find the right addiction treatment services for you.


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