Drinking is largely accepted as a social activity, which sometimes can help cope with stress, insomnia, or anxiety. However, it is difficult to quit drinking after becoming addicted. A recent study reveals how alcohol addiction might start.
Your brain can blind you to the side effects of alcohol
According to a team of British and Chinese researchers, co-led by the University of Warwick, the University of Cambridge, and Fudan University in Shanghai, the physical origin of alcohol addiction lies in a network of the human brain that regulates our response to danger.
When the medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC) at the front of the brain senses unpleasant factors or emergency, it sends the information to the dorsal periaqueductal gray (dPAG) at the brain's core. The latter area processes whether you need to escape the situation. If the information pathway in your brain is imbalanced, you might be at a greater risk of developing alcohol use disorders. Specifically, there are two effects.
First, alcohol inhibits the dPAG so that the brain cannot respond to negative signals or the need to escape from danger, leading you to only feel the benefits of drinking alcohol and not its harmful side effects. This is a possible cause of compulsive drinking.
Second, alcohol addiction may be caused by an over-excited dPAG, which makes you feel that you are in an adverse or unpleasant situation you wish to escape, leading you to turn to alcohol to do so. This is the cause of impulsive drinking.
However, alcohol generally does not do much to relieve concerns and it comes with some significant downsides.
Alcohol abuse can not only harm your health but also affect your safety
Drinking too much alcohol on a single occasion or over time can cause various health problems. For example, heavy drinking may cause increased fat in the liver, inflammation of the liver, and over time even cirrhosis. It may also result in gastritis and esophageal ulcers. Additionally, drinking too much may cause high blood pressure, stroke, eye problems, a weakened immune system, and cancer, among other conditions.
In addition to the effects on your health above, excessive drinking can reduce your judgment and lower inhibitions, leading to dangerous situations or behaviors, including car accidents, drowning, increased likelihood of committing violent crimes, engaging in risky and unprotected sex, and increased risk of suicide.
Other activities may help distract attention from drinking
If drinking has occupied much of your time, you need to fill your free time by developing new healthy hobbies or revisiting an old one. You can take a walk, play sports, or watch a movie. When you are at home, activities such as painting, board games, playing a musical instrument, woodworking are all healthy activities. At the same time, having no alcohol at home can help limit your drinking.
Cutting down on drinking may not always be easy. So, let your friends and family members know when you need their support. If you think you are suffering from health issues, do not hesitate to see a doctor, counselor, or therapist.