When someone develops an alcohol addiction, it is more than their own lack of self control that drives them to continue to drink in spite of negative consequences. There are chemical changes in the brain that occur when we drink alcohol and these can cause addiction to develop and perpetuate itself. Dopamine release is one of the key factors in alcohol addiction that can make it very difficult for people to quit drinking.
Research has shown that alcoholics tend to have fewer dopamine receptors in their brain meaning that their brain responds less to dopamine than the average person. They also have fewer dopamine transporter sites meaning that it can be harder to retrieve dopamine for later use. Essentially, heavy alcohol use over time begins to affect the brain’s ability to use dopamine and makes it more difficult for the individual to feel pleasure.
Because of their brain’s trouble with responding to dopamine, alcoholics will tend to drink more and more alcohol to try to get the same rush of dopamine that someone else might experience with a much smaller dose. An alcoholic’s natural state may also tend to be more depressed because of their brain chemistry and they will need to drink in order to feel any sense of happiness or pleasure. These issues can make it very difficult for someone with an alcohol addiction to moderate or change their drinking habits without medical help.
With recovery treatment, it is possible for an alcoholic to repair some of their brain chemistry over time so that they will be able to improve their brain’s ability to respond to and retrieve dopamine. Abstinence from alcohol, healthy living habits and psychotherapy can help a person heal and start to feel natural pleasure and happiness again.