Why Alcohol Is Physically & Psychologically Addictive

Compare Rehab UK | Why Alcohol Is Physically & Psychologically Addictive

What is alcohol addiction?

Alcohol addiction, commonly referred to as alcoholism or alcohol dependency, is the most severe form of high-risk drinking, characterised by a strong, frequently overwhelming drive to consume alcohol. It entails consuming alcohol at a level that is harmful to your health.

Alcohol addiction is a psychological and physical disorder marked by unrestrained cravings for alcohol despite its detrimental effects on one’s relationships, finances, and health. Alcoholism can harm a person’s capacity to fulfil their everyday obligations because it alters how the brain works and makes it challenging for them to keep control of their urges.

Alcohol addicts observe that they must consume more to achieve the same results. They frequently prioritise drinking above other commitments or interests (like work or family life) or continue to drink alcohol despite negative effects, such as liver disease or depression brought on by alcohol. Physical withdrawal symptoms (when drinking stops or the intake reduces) are another side effect of alcohol dependence.

If you believe you are addicted to alcohol, you should visit your doctor or another medical practitioner before quitting. You can consult a medical expert at your GP surgery or call Compare Rehab UK for guidance and assistance in finding the best alcohol rehab programme.

Physical vs Psychological Alcohol Addiction

It’s crucial to recognise the difference between physical dependency and psychological addiction. Physical dependency is a part of addiction but is not the same as addiction, according to specialists. A person can become physically alcohol-dependent without being psychologically addicted to it.

Alcoholism can be both a chemical (physical) and a habitual (psychological) addiction. Some people develop a drinking addiction and require alcohol every night. The act of drinking to feel good and function “normally” is known as psychological dependence.

Health problems caused by alcohol addiction

The more you drink regularly, the higher your risk of experiencing various health issues.

Being dependent on alcohol is likely to increase your risk of developing several major health issues as a result of alcohol consumption. These include mouth, throat, and breast cancers, other severe illnesses like bowel, breast, and pancreatic cancers, and problems like high blood pressure, stroke, and coronary alcohol-related heart disease.

Non-dependent drinkers may also experience these alcohol-related health issues. The UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) advise that it is safest not to drink more than 14 units per week regularly to reduce the health hazards associated with alcohol use to a minimum.

Your liver is harmed by heavy drinking over time. According to estimates, seven out of ten individuals with alcoholic liver disease—a condition in which alcohol abuse damages the liver—have a drinking issue.

Mental health

Alcoholism is frequently accompanied by poor mental health; unfortunately, both conditions can be causes and negative consequences. It’s common for individuals with alcohol addiction to have a mental health disorder simultaneously.

When you get dependent on alcohol, you may experience anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. This is partially because frequent, heavy drinking interferes with the neurotransmitters in our brains necessary for mental health.

Alcoholism can also have a negative impact on your relationships with your partner, family, and friends, as well as your job and finances. Additionally, these problems might make melancholy and anxiety worse.

You may become more aggressive after drinking. You could be entering a vicious cycle if you drink to try to lift your spirits.

Alcohol withdrawal

Withdrawing from alcohol can be difficult and, in some cases, fatal. Several psychological and physical symptoms will develop depending on how much and how frequently you drink. You might need support from a healthcare professional if you want to stop.

It is always advisable to discuss quitting drinking with your doctor. It might not always be a smart idea to “go cold turkey.”

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Intense sweating

Seizures, hallucinations, and delirium could occur as a result of severe withdrawal.

Medical detox can help you stop drinking in a safe environment. Your doctor may suggest treatment at home or at a clinic, depending on your risk for withdrawal symptoms.

What causes alcohol dependence?

Alcoholism can develop for a variety of reasons. These include a person’s personality, family history, environment, stressors, and genetic susceptibility.

  • Genetic Predisposition: According to research, there is a significant hereditary component to the risk of becoming addicted to alcohol. People are more prone to experience alcoholism themselves if their parents or siblings do.
  • Family History: If one parent abuses alcohol, there is a 50% risk that the child will also abuse alcohol, while if both parents abuse alcohol, there is an 80% probability that the child will abuse alcohol.
  • Personality qualities: Some people may be more prone to becoming alcoholics due to specific personality traits. Alcohol addiction is more prevalent, for instance, in people who are impulsive, sensation-seeking, or rebellious.
  • Stressors: stressful situations like divorce, the death of a loved one, money troubles, marital problems, or moving away from home can cause heavy drinking episodes.
  • Childhood Trauma: Adolescence or childhood traumatising events can result in substance misuse later in life. Early childhood trauma exposure may also raise the chance of becoming alcohol dependent, according to research. The strongest correlation between these two factors is seen in people who have experienced various forms of traumatic situations.
  • Environmental Factors: Heavy drinkers are more likely to reside in locations with high rates of unemployment, poverty, crime, violence, and other undesirable conditions.

How can I tell if I’m dependent on alcohol?

Understanding why alcohol is addictive can help you become more conscious of your drinking habits, but it is also crucial to recognise the symptoms of alcoholism.

The following are typical signs and symptoms of alcoholism:

  • To become intoxicated or euphoric, you must consume increasing amounts of alcohol.
  • You need to drink throughout the day in order to function, and you consider drinking constantly.
  • To communicate with people and feel at ease in social settings, you must drink.
  • You can’t manage your drinking: once you start, you drink heavily and find it challenging to quit. You won’t just have one drink.
  • When you drink too much, you have blackouts.
  • You drink by yourself, hide how much you consume, and tell lies to your loved ones about your drinking patterns.
  • Your drinking is harming your connections with friends, family, and co-workers.
  • Your career and productivity at work are suffering as a result of your drinking.
  • Your drinking has put your or others’ lives in jeopardy.
  • You are having problems with money or the law because of an alcohol use disorder.
  • When you stop drinking, withdrawal symptoms appear.
  • You continue to drink despite your best efforts to abstain, and you have attempted but failed to regulate or stop drinking.

Although alcoholism is a debilitating condition and alcohol is an addictive substance, you can get help from support organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous and other treatment choices to regain control of your life.

Other warning signs

There are many levels of alcohol dependence, even if you don’t recognise the signs mentioned above.

You may be drinking at a level that could harm your long-term health if you “need” to split a bottle of wine with your significant other most evenings of the week or always go out for a few beers after work to unwind.

You may have developed an alcohol dependence if it’s challenging for you to relax or have fun without a drink.

How is alcohol dependence and addiction diagnosed

When determining if a patient is alcohol dependent, doctors look for indicators that demonstrate the person can’t control their drinking and has a strong internal need to consume alcohol.

They specifically check for the following signs:

  • A reduced ability to control alcohol use. This could entail being unable to manage the duration of a drinking session, the amount of alcohol consumed, how frequently you drink, your ability to continue drinking once you start, or whether you drink at inappropriate times or locations.
  • Giving alcohol higher importance: if drinking takes precedence over other everyday obligations and commitments like family or work, if drinking is more essential to you than taking care of your health, or if you continue to drink despite drinking having a detrimental impact on your health or life.
  • Negative effects of alcohol on the body or mind: displaying signs of increasing alcohol tolerance (needing more drinks to achieve the same impact), going through withdrawal, or using alcohol to stop or lessen withdrawal symptoms.

Based on your continued history of alcohol use, your doctor may determine that you have alcohol dependency if you exhibit two or more of the symptoms mentioned above. Alcohol dependency can be diagnosed based on a continuous daily (or almost daily) alcohol usage for a period of at least three months. However, generally, this is based on behaviour during the previous 12 months or more.

What can I do if I’m addicted to alcohol?

If you or someone you know struggles with alcoholism, it may become very difficult to stop drinking. This holds true even when negative side effects manifest.

Although accepting alcoholism treatment may be challenging, Compare Rehab UK offers a free alcohol addiction evaluation with a professional at a hospital or facility to assist you in discovering more about your addiction and what you can do to move closer to recovery.

Several treatment options use various techniques to address all the components of alcohol addiction. Treatments generally start with a full diagnosis of the patient-specific situation, following medical detox, where the symptoms of withdrawal are controlled and monitored by a team of specialists, helping to manage the most challenging effects of detoxification from alcohol. After the body is clean of toxins and because alcoholism is also a psychological addiction, a therapy component should start to address the psychological and mental aspects of the addiction, helping to discover the roots for the development of the dependence and teaching coping mechanisms. Re-educating the patient to think and tackle life’s challenging situations without recurring to alcohol or drugs is the general goal of therapy. This strategy prepares individuals with the necessary coping skills for a substance abuse-free life.

Alcohol Addiction

How to reduce your risk of becoming alcohol dependent

Although there isn’t a way to drink that is fully risk-free, observing these recommendations can help reduce some of the risks:

  • Remind yourself to eat. Avoid drinking when you’re hungry to delay the onset of intoxication.
  • Drink plenty of water. Try to drink one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume.
  • Take it slowly. Drink slowly to give your body time to process the alcohol. Your liver can process one ounce of alcohol each hour.
  • Do not mix alcohol with other drugs. Caffeine may make alcohol’s depressing effects less noticeable, leading you to drink more than you normally might. If you drink coffee to “sober up,” you might feel more alert, but you might also be more inclined to drive after drinking and make a mistake. Additionally, it may be dangerous to combine alcohol and other drugs.
  • Don’t drive after drinking. Never drive after drinking. Even if you feel as though you have sobered up, you may still have alcohol in your system, which can cause a delay in your reaction time.
Last Edited: September 19th, 2022
Clinically Reviewed: July 5, 2022
Compare Rehab UK | Why Alcohol Is Physically & Psychologically Addictive
Clinical Reviewer


BACP accredited psychotherapist with 16 years experience working in mental health specialising in psychodynamic person-centred therapies treating those with a range of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, OCD and Addiction.