Alcoholism and Its Effects on the Brain

Author - JD Meints | January 15, 2015

Although the drug and alcohol field is still growing, there have been significant advancements. One of these is the greater understanding of how addiction affects the brain and its functioning.

In fact, because alcohol affects the brain so significantly, experts have found the point at which the disease of alcoholism progresses into an addiction. It appears to be the point when there is a reduction in certain neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. When there is a decrease of neurotransmitters, there is often a craving to drink. For instance, serotonin, and dopamine are three brain chemicals that have been consistently linked with mood and mood disorders. Changes to the levels of dopamine in an individual's system, for example, are linked to psychosis and schizophrenia, whereas serotonin are connected to the psychiatric experiences of depression and bipolar disorder.

However, it should be clearly noted that the decrease of these neurotransmitters do not cause these psychological disorders, but they do affect mood and emotional activity. When their levels are low in the brain, an individual might return to a low mood, including not feeling well about their life and as a result yearn to have a drink. Alcohol decreases neurotransmitter levels, which only worsens the addiction cycle. When this happens, there are recognizable personality traits that seem to appear and are associated with the disease of alcoholism. For instance, there is often a low tolerance for stress, feelings of inadequacy, impaired impulse control, isolation, and a negative self-image. In addition to these traits, there is also a pattern of addictive thinking, a term coined by Dr. Stephanie Brown, in which there is rationalization, denial, and grandiosity. What's clear is that these patterns seem to be directly associated with the worsening cycles of addiction versus associated with the individual's personality prior to the abusive disease. For this reason, these patterns are often labeled addictive thinking or the addictive personality.

Furthermore, as the alcohol becomes more and more a dominant force, denial strengthens. One of the most difficult issues in addiction is facing the shame and self-hatred that is directly related to the destructive choices of addiction. The continued choice to get drunk destroys the body, healthy thinking, and impairs the maturity of the adult. In fact, part of making the turn towards sobriety is working finding a professional to work with who can facilitate the process of healthier thinking, insight into one's choices and behavior, and self-love and acceptance.

Another significant facet of brain research is recognizing the brain's ability to make dramatic change. Although addiction can have some harmful effects, the brain's ability to heal is insurmountable. For this reason, even with an addiction to methamphetamine, for example, which can be incredibly harmful to the brain, healing can take place and the brain can repair itself.

To begin a journey of healing and sobriety, consider the following three essential tasks:

  • There must be a belief that you can change. Deep inside, there must be a firm conviction that change is possible. Even if there is distrust for how that change will take place, that's okay, only the belief that it is possible is necessary. This will be the foundation upon which the recovery process will unfold.
  • Learning the process of addiction and becoming educated on how the cycle of abuse began can be a tool for empowerment. Rather than being lost in the throes of addiction and feeling victimized by the feelings, the need to drink, and the guilt that accompanies drinking, learn about the process, typical destructive feelings, and the associated damaging behaviors.
  • Because addiction often begins with a need to rid those awful feelings of shame and self-loathing, developing a healthy sense of self is important. This is none other than getting at the root of the problem. It's a return to self-love, which can only lead to self-loving (instead of self-destructing) behavior.
  • Although an addiction can begin innocently, healing yourself of an addiction must be done consciously and willingly.

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