Ever Wonder: What is Habit Forming Alcohol Use?
You know you have habit forming alcohol use when:
Why does alcohol mute happiness?
In the brain, alcohol initially boosts the effect of calming neurotransmitter GABA and releases feel-good endorphins that stimulate opioid receptors. However, as blood alcohol level rises, so does its toxic by-product acetaldehyde which is thought to be responsible for the next-day hangover and moodiness. Alcohol also negatively impacts sleep, as waning blood alcohol levels disrupt the brain’s natural sleep cycle and impede the ability to have a deep, restorative sleep that is crucial for next-day energy and mood stability.
Can habit drinking become a bigger problem?
A seemingly harmless habit can escalate into dependency as the brain’s feel-good receptors grow accustomed to the presence of high levels of alcohol in the blood to maintain a new homeostasis. In turn, the absence of alcohol signals the brain’s opioid receptors and reward pathways to cue alcohol-seeking behavior (i.e. cravings); in severe alcohol use disorder, the sudden discontinuation of alcohol can result in alcohol withdrawal symptoms that can progress to life-threatening seizures and delirium tremens – a syndrome that may include involuntary body shaking, confusion, hallucinations, and irregular heart rhythms.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines heavy drinking as follows:
If you are still uncertain about whether you may have an alcohol use disorder, you can ask yourself the following questions:
If you answered “yes” to at least two of these questions, you may have an alcohol use disorder.
Some Things to Consider:
This article was co-authored by Andre Burey, MD and Amanda Craig, PhD LMFT
Dr. Burey is a psychiatrist double board-certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) in Adult Psychiatry and Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. He is staff psychiatrist at Silver Hill Hospital in New Caanan and has a private practice in Darien, CT.
Dr. Craig is a American Associate of Marriage and FamilyTherapy (AAMFT) board approved supervisor and licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) with a doctorate in family psychology. She works primarily with issues that impact couples and parenting tweens. She has a group practice in NYC and a private practice in Darien, CT.