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Why is alcohol so addictive and why does it make you feel good?

According to the charity Alcohol Change UK, there are an estimated 602,391 dependent drinkers in England, while 24% of adults in England and Scotland regularly drink over the Chief Medical Officer’s low-risk guidelines. But why do so many of us continue to drink too much even when we know it’s bad for our health?  

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the reasons behind what makes alcohol so addictive and discover where to go for support if your drinking has become a cause for concern. 

What makes alcohol so addictive? 

Like other addictive substances, alcohol is a chemical that can impact your mood, perception and behaviour. When alcohol is consumed, it triggers the release of other chemicals in the body which interact with various neurotransmitters, including dopamine, which can make us feel more happy, euphoric and relaxed. Little wonder that once we start drinking, we often want to carry on. 

Over time, the body and brain become more tolerant to the increased dopamine levels, making you less sensitive to its effects. As a result, you may find yourself needing to drink more alcohol to achieve the same level of pleasure, while at the same time making you more sensitive to alcohol withdrawal.  

Why does alcohol make us feel good? 

As well as the cravings caused by the release of dopamine in your brain and body, there are also external factors which can make the act of drinking seem more pleasurable. Many of us turn to a glass of wine or beer to mark the end of the working day or perhaps consider it part and parcel of social gatherings. It’s a reward for working hard, or a way to celebrate and ‘let our hair down’.  

How do I know if I’m addicted to alcohol? 

Whilst the absolute definition is not black and white, it’s generally accepted that alcohol addiction is when you feel unable to stop drinking, despite being aware of the dangers to your health. You may start prioritising alcohol over other everyday activities and feel panicked when you are unable to feed the habit. 

Particularly heavy drinkers may also suffer physical withdrawal symptoms as a result of alcohol addiction such as sweating, insomnia, shaking and nausea. In some instances, your body can even go into shock which can be fatal. 

What can I do if I think I am addicted to alcohol? 

If you think you are, or at risk of becoming, alcohol dependent, the positive news is you are definitely not alone and there is free help and advice available. Here are some of the options open to you:  

1. Speak to your GP or a medical professional 

Your GP can assess your situation and refer you to appropriate services, such as counselling, medication or detoxification. In some cases, your GP can also prescribe medication to help you cope with withdrawal symptoms and reduce your cravings for alcohol. 

2. Contact Drinkline 

Contact the national free alcohol helpline on 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am–8pm, weekends 11am–4pm). This confidential service is for people who are concerned about their own drinking, or someone else's.  

3. Confide in family and friends 

We know it isn’t always easy to open up to loved ones about any addiction but it's an important step in the recovery process. Receiving emotional support and encouragement from people who care about you can be a huge source of comfort in your journey to sobriety, helping you to avoid social situations where alcohol is rife and keeping you motivated to achieve your goals. 

4. Join a local support group 

Use the LiveWell Finder tool to find local alcohol support groups in your area. These groups (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) give you the opportunity to connect with and received peer support from others who are in a similar situation to you. 

5. Register with LiveWell Dorset 

If you live in Dorset and want to change your relationship with alcohol, LiveWell Dorset is here to help. Our team of coaches will work with you to create a personalised plan tailored to you and your health goals, providing tips and one to one coaching along the way. You can also try the LiveWell Rethink your Drink quiz to identify if your drinking may be a cause for concern. Register with us today to find out more! 

Further reading 

How does this work?

The tailored approach LiveWell Dorset uses to come up with solutions to the things that are stopping us achieving our goals, is based upon work done by University College London developing the COM-B model of behaviour change. In this model, all behaviour is influenced by understanding a person’s capability to change, their opportunity to change and their motivation to change. By understanding which of these is the biggest barrier to change, we can tailor support accordingly. This model of behaviour change is at the centre of the support we offer, online and in person.

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