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Uncovering Why an Alcoholic Can’t Stop Drinking

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Alcohol addiction is a complex and multifaceted issue that affects millions of lives every year. Despite the staggering numbers, understanding “why an alcoholic can’t stop drinking” can feel like an unsolvable mystery. In this journey, we’ll unravel the intricate web of factors that contribute to alcohol addiction and examine the physical, psychological, and social aspects that make quitting so challenging. Let’s embark on this enlightening exploration and gain a deeper understanding of the struggles faced by those battling alcohol addiction.

Short Summary

  • Alcohol addiction is complex and influenced by physical, psychological, social and genetic factors.

  • Professional help & lifestyle changes are key to overcoming alcohol addiction.

  • Identify triggers & build a supportive network for successful recovery.

The Complex Nature of Alcohol Addiction

                                      A person drinking alcohol and struggling with alcohol addiction

Imagine a tangled web of interconnected threads, each representing a different factor that contributes to alcohol addiction. This web is complex and difficult to untangle, but it’s crucial to comprehend the many facets that can make quitting nearly impossible for some individuals.

Three primary components fuel this perplexing issue: physical dependence, psychological factors, and social influences.

Physical Dependence

One of the most significant obstacles faced by those attempting to quit heavy drinking is the physical dependence that develops with prolonged alcohol use. The body becomes so dependent on alcohol that it experiences withdrawal symptoms when the individual tries to stop. Imagine a well-oiled machine suddenly losing its primary energy source – the gears grind to a halt, causing chaos and malfunction. This is what happens to the body when a heavy drinker suddenly stops consuming alcohol.

Withdrawal symptoms can be wide-ranging and severe. These include:

  • irritability

  • depression

  • sweating

  • mood swings

  • headaches

  • tremors

  • nightmares

  • anxiety

  • nausea

  • cravings for alcohol

  • vomiting

These unpleasant symptoms can make it nearly impossible to quit without professional help or support.

Psychological Factors

An image depicting the psychological factors behind why an alcoholic can't stop drinking, including addiction, cravings, and compulsive behavior.

Underneath the surface of alcohol addiction lies a complex web of psychological factors. For some, drinking serves as self-medication for mental health issues or as a coping mechanism for dealing with stress and negative emotions. In fact, 20 percent of those struggling with alcohol abuse and alcoholism have at least one serious mental health condition. The prevalence of mental health conditions among those battling alcohol addiction and substance abuse highlights the importance of addressing both issues in the recovery process through mental health services administration.

It’s no surprise that individuals grappling with impulsiveness, low self-esteem, and a need for approval may turn to alcohol to escape their emotional struggles. As alcohol becomes their go-to solution, the addiction deepens, making it increasingly difficult to break free.

Social Influences

No man is an island, and our social environment plays a critical role in shaping our behaviors, including alcohol consumption. Peer pressure, family life, school, and work environments can all influence an individual’s drinking habits. For some, the seemingly harmless act of drinking with friends or colleagues can spiral into dependence as they try to fit in or cope with stress.

Poverty and physical or sexual abuse can also increase the likelihood of developing alcohol dependence, as they can trigger increased stress and anxiety, resulting in the tendency to consume alcohol as a coping mechanism for abuse alcohol.

Recognizing these social influences is essential in addressing and overcoming alcohol addiction.

The Role of Genetics in Alcoholism

                               A person looking at a family tree, showing a history of alcoholism in the family

While environmental factors play a significant role in the development of alcohol addiction, one cannot overlook the impact of genetics. “Twin studies in the US and Europe suggest that approximately 45-65% of the liability is due to genetic factors.” (Genetics and alcoholism, Edenberg, Foroud, 2013)

However, it’s important to note that genetics alone do not determine whether someone will develop AUD. Let’s dive deeper into the genetic factors and family history that can influence an individual’s susceptibility to alcoholism.

Genetic Factors

Not all genes are created equal, and some have been linked to an increased risk of alcoholism. Genes related to alcohol metabolism, such as ADH1B and ALDH2, and those that affect the reward pathways in the brain, such as DRD2 and Per1/Per2, have been identified as potentially important. Like pieces of a puzzle, these genes contribute to the complex picture of alcohol addiction.

Although having these genetic factors may increase an individual’s susceptibility to developing AUD, it’s important to remember that environmental factors and personal choices also play a crucial role.

Family History

A tangled family tree can also contribute to an individual’s risk of developing alcohol addiction. Those with a family history of alcoholism are four times more likely to develop alcohol addiction than those without such a history. Generational patterns of alcohol use disorders, a family culture of alcohol use, and a lack of knowledge about the risks of alcohol use can all contribute to this increased risk.

By understanding and addressing the role family history plays in alcohol addiction, individuals can break the cycle and reclaim control over their lives.

The Brain Chemistry of Alcohol Addiction

                                                    A person's brain with neurotransmitters imbalance

When it comes to alcohol addiction, the brain plays a starring role. Excessive drinking can disrupt the delicate balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to a chemical imbalance. This imbalance not only impairs the individual’s ability to think clearly, but also produces a pleasurable feeling that drives them to continue drinking.

Let’s explore the intricate dance of neurotransmitters and the brain’s reward system that fuels alcohol addiction.

Neurotransmitter Imbalance

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, it’s essential to understand how alcohol affects the brain’s neurotransmitters, such as dopaminergic, serotoninergic, and -aminobutyric acid (GABA) systems. This disruption creates a dangerous imbalance, wreaking havoc on the brain’s reward system. The result? Strong cravings for alcohol and a relentless cycle of withdrawal and relapse. Don’t hesitate to seek support and treatment at the Columbia rehab facility to find the help you need to break free from this challenging situation.

Imagine a delicate ecosystem thrown into chaos when a foreign invader disrupts the natural balance – this is what happens to the brain when alcohol addiction takes hold.

Reward System

Alcohol hijacks the brain’s reward system, releasing dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with rewards and pleasure, when exposed to alcohol. This creates a powerful driving force for continued drinking, as the brain becomes conditioned to seek out drinking alcohol to experience the pleasurable sensations it brings.

Breaking free from this hijacked reward system is one of the key challenges faced by those struggling with alcohol addiction.

The Vicious Cycle of Withdrawal and Relapse

                                                 A person going through alcohol withdrawal symptoms

For anyone who has ever tried to quit drinking, the vicious cycle of withdrawal and relapse can feel like an endless battle. Withdrawal symptoms make quitting a daunting task, while the risk of relapse lurks around every corner, waiting to derail even the most determined efforts.

Let’s explore the challenges of overcoming alcohol addiction, including the symptoms of withdrawal and the common triggers for relapse.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal can be a harrowing experience, both physically and psychologically. Symptoms can range from:

  • irritability

  • anxiety

  • tremors

  • nausea

  • seizures in extreme cases

It’s no wonder that many alcoholics find it difficult to quit without professional help or support.

Understanding and addressing these withdrawal symptoms is crucial for those seeking to break free from the grip of alcohol addiction.

Relapse Triggers

Just as a fire needs a spark to ignite, relapse often begins with a trigger. Common triggers for alcohol relapse include:

  • Stress

  • Negative emotions

  • Over-confidence in sobriety

  • Being in places or around people associated with past substance use

By identifying and avoiding these triggers, individuals can better maintain their sobriety and prevent a devastating relapse.

Strategies for Overcoming Alcohol Addiction

                                             A person talking to a therapist about alcohol addiction

While the challenges of overcoming alcohol addiction and alcohol problems may seem insurmountable, there is hope. With the right strategies in place, alcoholics can stop drinking and begin the path to recovery.

By seeking professional help, making lifestyle changes, and building a supportive social network, it’s possible to break the cycle of addiction and reclaim control over one’s life.

Professional Treatment

When it comes to overcoming alcohol addiction, professional help is often a critical component of success. Therapy, medication, and support groups can all play a vital role in guiding individuals through the minefield of withdrawal symptoms and helping them maintain sobriety.

Cognitive-behavioral treatment, motivational interventions, and FDA-approved medications such as naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram have all shown promise in helping individuals overcome alcohol addiction as part of a comprehensive substance abuse treatment plan.

Lifestyle Changes

In addition to professional treatment, making lifestyle changes can significantly improve an individual’s chances of overcoming alcohol addiction. These changes may include:

  • Having regular meal times

  • Getting enough sleep

  • Using stress reduction techniques

  • Exercising

  • Altering social habits

Creating a supportive social network is also essential, as it can be achieved by attending support groups, engaging in activities with sober friends, and seeking out mentors or sponsors who can provide guidance and encouragement.


Alcohol addiction is a complex and multifaceted issue, but with understanding and perseverance, it can be overcome. By untangling the web of physical dependence, psychological factors, and social influences, individuals can face the challenges of withdrawal and relapse head-on. With the right strategies in place, including professional treatment and lifestyle changes, those struggling with alcohol addiction can break free from its grip and reclaim control over their lives. Even those who tried quitting after 20 years. Remember, the journey to recovery may be difficult, but the destination is worth every step.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean when you can’t stop drinking?

If you can’t stop drinking, it could be a sign of Alcohol Use Disorder – a medical condition which requires professional help to regain control over alcohol use.

Alcohol use disorder is a serious condition that can have long-term consequences if left untreated. It is important to seek help from a qualified professional if you think you may have a problem with alcohol.

What percentage of alcoholics can stop drinking?

Around 18-60% of recovering alcoholics can abstain from drinking completely for up to two years, depending on their level of dependence.

This percentage varies depending on the individual’s level of dependence on alcohol. Those who are more dependent on alcohol may find it more difficult to abstain from drinking for a longer period of time. On the other hand, those who are healthy are those who do not.

What kind of coping mechanism is drinking?

Drinking alcohol is often used as a coping mechanism, as it helps to relax the central nervous system and reduce inhibition, judgment, and memory. This can provide temporary relief from stressors or challenges individuals may be facing.

However, it is important to remember that alcohol is a depressant and can lead to long-term health issues if consumed in excess. It can also lead to addiction and other negative consequences. Therefore, it is important to be mindful.

What are the primary factors that contribute to alcohol addiction?

Physical dependence, psychological factors, and social influences all contribute to alcohol addiction, making it a complex issue with multiple causes.

It is important to understand the various factors that contribute to alcohol addiction in order to develop effective treatment plans. For example, physical dependence on alcohol can lead to withdrawal symptoms when a person stops drinking, which can lead to withdrawal symptoms when a person stops drinking.

How does genetics influence the risk of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD)?

Genetics significantly influences a person’s likelihood of developing AUD, accounting for around half of the risk. But environmental factors and personal choices also play an important role in increasing or decreasing this risk.

For example, people who have a family history of AUD are more likely to develop the disorder. Additionally, people who have experienced trauma or have a mental health disorder are also at a higher risk.


Warren Phillips

Warren is a Licensed Master Social Worker, who specializes in substance abuse and mental health treatment. Clinically, Warren has developed a therapeutic skillset that utilizes a strengths-based perspective, Twelve Step philosophies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing.

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Located on the historic peninsula of Charleston, South Carolina, Lantana Recovery takes a modern approach to Substance Use Disorder treatment, offering intensive clinical care while also immersing our clients in local Charleston culture.