The dividing line between social drinking and alcohol abuse can be a murky one, especially when friends and loved ones engage in the same behaviors. The occasional morning hangover can also be easy to overlook, even when it starts to happen more often than usual.
Like most every form of drug abuse and addiction, alcohol abuse behaviors span a continuum made up of patterns of drinking that may or may not impair one’s functional capacity in daily life. Likewise, the ability to simply cut back can vary depending on how far along a person is on the alcohol abuse continuum.
Alcohol’s Workings within the Brain
Alcohol’s relaxing effects result from its ability to stimulate GABA and glutamate neurotransmitter production in the brain. According to Scripps Research Institute, both GABA and glutamate levels determine the brain’s level of electrical activity. Since alcohol acts as a depressant, it slows down the brain’s chemical activity, which accounts for the feelings of relaxation and calm it produces.
The Alcohol Abuse Cycle
Over time, continued drinking disrupts the brain’s natural chemical balance, creating a state of physical dependence on alcohol’s effects. These conditions also bring on structural damage to GABA and glutamate-producing brain cells, which in turn come to require larger quantities of alcohol to produce the same desired “high” effects.
Before long, a person starts to experience withdrawal episodes with symptoms ranging from insomnia, sweating and tremors, to depression and anxiety. These developments coupled with the brain’s growing tolerance for more alcohol set the alcohol abuse cycle in motion.
Ultimately, the best time to try and cut back on drinking is during the early stages of alcohol abuse. Once brain chemical imbalances reach a certain point, it becomes increasingly difficult to follow through on any intention to reduce your alcohol intake.
If you or someone you know struggles with alcohol abuse and have more questions about how to better manage your drinking, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-654-0987 to speak with one of our phone counselors.