When someone has a drinking problem, not only do they find themselves questioning why they can’t be normal, but also it is extremely common for their family and friends to not quite understand why they can’t control their alcohol usage. Mostly everyone affected by alcoholism is, at some point in time, left wondering what causes alcoholics to drink as heavily as they do.

While these questions may seem completely rational, there are actually well-documented explanations behind why alcoholics drink that may help us better understand why alcoholism affects so many people.

This article will discuss the misconceptions and realities of the physical, emotional and neurological factors that feed alcoholism.

Physical Factors

Cravings play a huge role in the physical aspect of why people drink. They are often enticed into drinking over and over again by how good they believe it feels while taking part in the act of drinking.

Some may start out enjoying the taste while others enjoy the “liquid courage” they believe it supplies them with. This may begin as an innocent go-to for many, but over time as the body becomes more physically dependent on alcohol, the physical withdrawals can keep someone drinking.

Alcohol withdrawal can brutal, thus causing a person to reach for the bottle again in hopes that it will relieve their symptoms. These can include:

  • Anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Depression.
  • Headaches.
  • Poor sleep/insomnia.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Bloating.
  • Chills.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Fatigue.
  • Jitters/shaky hands.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Delirium tremens (DTs).

Emotional Factors

Obsession and compulsion are key emotional elements as to why people drink or become alcoholics. Some people use alcohol as a coping mechanism for pain, grief, anxiety or stress, which over time develops into an overly automatic, obsessive-compulsive behavior and, in turn, becomes a substance dependency.

Neurological Factors

The brain may perhaps be the most affected part of the body when it comes to alcohol consumption.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “As the brain grows used to alcohol, it compensates for alcohol’s slowing effects by increasing the activity of excitatory neurotransmitters, speeding up signal transmission. In this way, the brain attempts to restore itself to a normal state in the presence of alcohol. If the influence of alcohol is suddenly removed (that is, if a long-term heavy drinker stops drinking suddenly), the brain may have to readjust once again: this may lead to the unpleasant feelings associated with alcohol withdrawal, such as experiencing ‘the shakes’ or increased anxiety.”

The brain has nerve pathways that are specifically sensitized to alcohol by heavy drinking, which create a permanent footprint. Therefore, if a person picks back up, even after years of living in sobriety, this can trigger these pathways into a domino effect of both physical and mental incidents as they recall the heavy drinking patterns of the past.

Does Alcoholism Ever Go Away?

Alcoholism is a condition that lasts a lifetime, unfortunately. While someone can go on with their life and live in recovery, it is a daily choice and commitment. While these factors can be managed properly and tend to fade over time, being an alcoholic is something people live with their entire life.

It’s commonly believed based on research and first-hand knowledge, that if a person with an alcoholic past begins to drink again, even after learning how to be a “non-drinker” practicing abstinence, that their previous drinking patterns will quickly return.  Most people who relapse find themselves right back where they started, out of control and just as compulsive.

Getting Help

Alcoholism is something that affects many people. Alcohol is a dangerous drug and should be treated with care. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol substance abuse, contact us today to learn more about alcohol treatment options. We can help you determine if our alcohol treatment program is a fit for you. Our process is completely confidential, and the initial assessment is free.

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By – Carly Benson
With over 11 years of recovery under her belt from alcohol and cocaine, Carly Benson has become a faithful believer in miracles, a writer and a person living a mindfully alcohol-free lifestyle. Read more

The Benefits of Addiction: Why Alcoholics Drink, Psychology Today, Stanton Peele, <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/addiction-in-society/201110/the-benefits-addiction-why-alcoholics-drink> October 2011

Neuroscience: Pathways to Alcohol Dependence, NIH,

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.