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Alcohol and Addiction

According to the World Health Organization, alcohol is a selectively addictive drug that affects approximately 10 percent of the population (What Causes, 2001). Alcoholism is the dependence on, or addiction to, alcohol, and it is a chronic, progressive and sometimes fatal disease (Kapi'Olani Health, 2001). Researchers have examined many possible contributing factors of alcoholism, but no one specific cause has been established.

Some people appear to have a genetic or biological tendency toward alcoholism (UMHS, 2001; What Causes, 2001). Scientists studied children of alcoholics who were raised in non-alcoholic environments (e.g. foster homes) and compared them to children from non-alcoholic families who were raised in alcoholic environments (What Causes, 2001). Results showed that genetics played more of a role in the development of alcoholism than environment, and this was compared to long-term twin studies and current scientific research, all of which support the hypothesis that alcoholics are biochemically different before they ever start drinking.

There are two primary differences in the way the body of an alcoholic processes alcohol compared to a normal person. First, the liver metabolizes alcohol in a different way, and second, the brain of an alcoholic reacts to alcohol diversely as a result. These differences cause an alcoholic to experience tolerance and cravings. Research has shown that an alcoholic's liver produces an excessive amount of an ADH enzyme which disrupts the detoxification process, resulting in a build up of acetaldehyde in the alcoholic. Acetaldehyde is very toxic, causing the alcoholic to experience irritation and less sedation from alcohol. This is known as metabolic tolerance. The acetaldehyde travels to the brain where it combines with neurotransmitters to form an opiate-like compound that stimulates GABA receptor sites, producing a sensation of euphoria, pleasure and well-being. The irrit...

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Alcohol and Addiction. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 21:34, July 01, 2022, from