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What Makes Alcohol Abuse A Gate-Way To Alcoholism?

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

You have likely heard of the concept of one drug being a gateway to another. For example, it is often said that cannabis is a gateway to harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin. The gateway hypothesis is one with quite a bit of scientific support throughout the world. Such scientific evidence is one of the reasons alcohol is considered a gateway to alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

We use the gateway correlation here not to say that alcohol is the gateway to other drugs. That may or may not be the case, but applying the gateway concept here is valid inasmuch as most people who consume alcohol never progress to the point of alcohol abuse or addiction. It is only a small handful who, for one reason or another, start drinking and do not find a way to stop. We will delve into this topic in more detail with this guide.

Definition of Addictive Behaviour

The best place to start in our discussion of alcohol as a gateway is to define what addictive behaviour is. Whether you are talking about alcohol or any other substance, addictive behaviour is any kind of action that is done compulsively. It is an action over which the person engaging in it has little or no control – in other words, the addict cannot stop him/herself even though he/she knows what he/she's doing is destructive.

Addictive behaviour is not just confined to alcohol and hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. People can be addicted to:

  • prescription medications
  • over-the-counter drugs
  • 'legal highs' (new psychoactive substances)
  • household chemicals and solvents
  • behaviours such as gambling and sex.

What makes alcohol addiction unique is the effect alcohol has on the brain. It alters brain chemistry in such a way that it can easily lead to alcoholism among people whose brains respond accordingly. That brain response is the difference between alcohol being a gateway for some people and not for others.

Alcohol and Brain Chemicals

We are not exactly sure why drinking leads to alcohol abuse in some individuals, alcoholism in others, and no problems at all for the vast majority of people. However, a number of scientific studies have uncovered the fact that the brains of alcohol abusers and alcoholics seem to derive more pleasure when exposed to alcohol.

Alcohol in the bloodstream will eventually reach the brain if not filtered out by the liver. The brain responds by producing certain chemicals known as neurotransmitters and endorphins. Some of these chemicals are directly related to feelings of pleasure. People who are at risk of alcoholism or alcohol abuse tend to experience greater levels of pleasure from drinking even while still casual drinkers. These feelings of pleasure can be so intense that they drive future cravings.

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Where most people do not experience cravings as casual drinkers, the future abuser or alcoholic does. It is believed that those cravings are the fuel that eventually turns casual drinking to abuse and addiction.

Interrupting the Drinking Cycle

A person dealing with alcohol abuse is on his/her way to chronic alcoholism. How quickly abuse transitions to alcoholism depends on the individual person and how he or she responds to continued drinking. Those of us in the alcohol recovery community know it can take just days to make that jump for some people. Therefore, our goal is to interrupt the drinking cycle as soon as we possibly can. This can be accomplished through an inpatient or outpatient detox programme.

The drinking cycle works as follows:

  • The alcohol abuser consumes a certain amount of alcohol every day.
  • After a while, he/she notices that he/she no longer enjoys the same amount of pleasure from king.
  • About the same time, he/she also begins to notice that he/she does not feel well between drinking episodes.
  • The solution to both problems is to consume a greater volume of alcohol.
  • The process of drinking more to feel good continues in an endless cycle that eventually becomes chronic alcoholism.

This should give you a pretty good idea of why alcohol is a gateway to alcoholism. Once a person begins drinking and experiencing alcohol cravings, the cycle has started. That cycle eventually carries the casual drinker along the road to alcoholism unless something is done to interrupt that cycle.

Effective Treatment Can Help

Do you feel as if you are trapped in that endless cycle of alcohol abuse? Do you feel as though you have to keep drinking more in order to enjoy the same amount of pleasure? Please know that you do not have to continue down the road that could eventually lead you to alcoholism. You can break the drinking cycle by undergoing an effective treatment programme.

Treatments are offered through private clinics, independent counsellors, alcohol charities, and even the NHS. Finding a treatment programme in your local area is as simple as calling our 24-hour helpline. We are an independent organisation committed to helping problem drinkers and their families get the help and support they need. We keep an up-to-date database of information on all the local treatment programmes available throughout the UK.

Perhaps you do not question your alcohol abuse any longer. Perhaps you already know you are an alcoholic. If so, we can help you as well. We can refer you to a private rehab clinic capable of starting your treatment within just a few days. There is no need to continue living as a prisoner to drinking.

The reality of drinking is that alcohol is a gateway to alcoholism. Even casual drinkers need to be very careful about how much they consume – especially if they begin feeling cravings for alcohol that they have never experienced before. Cravings are the first sign that casual drinking could become a full-blown addiction.

We urge you to pay attention if you feel as if you are drinking more than you should. Contact our helpline in the event you are even the slightest bit concerned about how much you drink. We would love the opportunity to set your mind at ease if you don't have a drinking problem. But if you do, we want to help you get treatment.

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