Drinking alcohol is a widely accepted social custom in most cultures. Drinking too much alcohol or drinking too often can become problematic and even endanger lives. Most people feel like they can stop drinking whenever they want. But when their drinking gets to the point that it becomes a problem, they find that stopping drinking may not actually be within their control. Why can’t you stop drinking on your own?
You’ve Tried to Stop Drinking—Honestly
You have decided that you need to stop drinking, or perhaps life events and consequences have made the decision for you. Perhaps your drinking interfered with your job, family, or relationships or even caused you legal problems, such as a DUI. Or maybe you simply got tired of waking up hungover or not remembering what happened the night before. Whatever your circumstances, it was your time.
So you stopped. Right? Despite your very best efforts, it turns out that deciding to stop drinking is not enough. Alcohol is different than changing your hair color or wardrobe. Drinking alcohol makes changes internally that can remove your power to choose.
When Drinking Becomes More Than a Choice
Alcohol is addictive, meaning that depending on genetic and environmental factors and how much and how often you consumed alcohol, your body may have become addicted to alcohol. Not everyone who drinks alcohol will become addicted, whereas certain people are at high risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.
If addiction runs in your family, you have approximately a 50% chance of developing an addiction yourself. Environmental factors contributing to alcohol use disorder include emotional, physical, sexual abuse, or other forms of trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.) When you have both genetic and environmental factors, the likelihood that you will develop an addiction increases.
Your drinking habits also heavily contribute to whether or not you will develop an alcohol use disorder. Drinking daily, regularly or binge drinking — drinking a lot of alcohol at one time — dramatically increases your chances of developing an addiction to alcohol. This outcome is more than just a myth or a stigma or some type of weakness. It is an actual physical condition that is a result of multiple factors.
The Neurobiological Power of Addiction
When you drink, the pleasant feeling you initially feel is a release of dopamine in the brain. The reward center in the brain senses dopamine and craves more. However, each time you drink, less dopamine is released as your body builds up a tolerance for the alcohol. This process results in you consuming more alcohol more frequently to experience the same pleasurable feelings.
Infinitely increasing levels of alcohol consumption are dangerous because your body can only tolerate a certain amount of alcohol in the blood, your oxygen, your liver, and other vital organs. The true addictive power comes into play when the reward center physically changes based on your continued consumption of alcohol. The cravings for the source of dopamine override the desires even for basic needs such as food and sleep. This phenomenon is why addiction is so powerful and can be nearly impossible to simply stop on your own. Your body is craving alcohol in a way, and at a level, far beyond anything willpower can match.
Why Addiction Is a Medical Condition
When you stop drinking, you will experience withdrawal symptoms as your body detoxes from the alcohol. Most of these physical symptoms will go away when your initial detox period is over. However, you will still experience cravings due to the changes to the reward system in your brain.
These physiological changes require medical supervision and treatment and are classified as a medical condition. Stigma may have taught you shame and guilt regarding drinking, but alcohol use disorder is an actual disease and impacts others just like you.
There Is No Shame in Needing Help Putting Down the Drink
If you have an alcohol use disorder, you are not alone. In 2020, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 28.3 million people over the age of 12 had an alcohol use disorder in the past year in the United States. Alcoholism is a common disease that affects millions of other people. There needs to be no shame attached.
Most people do not experience shame in seeking medical help for other medical conditions, such as diabetes or a heart issue. You would not be able to heal yourself independently of those conditions, either. Likewise, you should not feel shame for needing medical help for alcohol use disorder.
Why can’t you stop drinking on your own? Whether your addiction was genetic, environmental, or due to a combination of factors, your brain has experienced permanent physiological changes that have created a medical condition. You need medical supervision and treatment for this condition, and no one expects you to heal on your own. The Ho Tai Way – Recovery For Women is a detox and residential treatment center for the medical treatment of alcohol and other substance disorders. We offer medical supervision throughout your residential stay to ensure that you receive the proper care during the treatment process. Our Costa Mesa, California facility offers group and individual therapy in a calm, peaceful, soothing environment that promotes healing. We use evidence-based practices and trauma-informed care to support your recovery. You already have the tools inside you to achieve sobriety. We help you use them. Contact The Ho Tai Way today at (714) 581-3974.