Much like diabetes, alcoholism is most often the result of biochemical differences present in certain people. A genetic predisposition if you will.
I can’t tell you how many times in my career as an addiction counselor and interventionist, I’ve heard problem drinkers say that they still believe they can control their drinking. They simply need to use more willpower to abstain from drinking too much. Unfortunately, that’s like a diabetic saying that they can have some sugar with no adverse effects.
Why Is This?
Throughout the first half of the 20th century alcoholism was considered a moral issue. During the last half of that century, growing evidence of a disease model for alcoholism emerged. This is important because if alcoholism is a moral issue, then will power and higher moral principles would be sufficient to cure a drinking problem. Over time though, research has steadily revealed alcoholism to be a disease much like diabetes.
Normal vs. Alcoholic Brains
In a non-alcoholic brain there are a number of enzymes present in appropriate amounts, all functioning in the right way. When someone with a normal brain takes a drink, these enzymes quickly break the alcohol down into carbohydrates and simple sugars in a way that allows the body to eliminate them. Brains functioning in this manner are not genetically predisposed to develop alcoholism.
Brains that are predisposed to becoming alcoholic are missing some of the enzymes in the brain that allow them to break down the alcohol to simple carbohydrates and sugars. One of the steps in the process of breaking alcohol down to simple sugars is the creation of acetone. In an alcoholic brain the person takes a drink and the alcohol is only broken down as far as acetone, and then the process stops. Thus the acetone just sits in the brain instead of breaking down further to simple sugars. Since acetone is the chemical in the brain that makes you crave more alcohol, the person craves another drink and takes another drink. More acetone accumulates, so they crave the third drink twice as much is the second, and so on until the person is inevitably intoxicated. No wonder Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying that has resonated with alcoholics around the world for decades - “one is too many and 100 is never enough!”
What Are the Implications?
Simply put, there are there are two types of brains in the world when it comes to drinking alcohol. A normal brain breaks down the alcohol to simple sugars. There is no craving for a second drink. A person with an alcoholic brain breaks alcohol down to acetone, and it lingers in the brain for a long period of time causing a person to crave another drink.
Alcoholism is a disease and the only effective treatment is to abstain from consuming the substance that triggers a craving. It is most definitely not a matter of will power. It is a genetic disorder that is activated by the consumption of alcohol, and not the fault of the person experiencing the symptoms.
If you or your loved one has a brain that lacks the proper enzymes discussed above, drinking alcohol causes a chain reaction in the sense that you crave more and often drink way more than you want to.
Having the knowledge that there are certain biochemical factors that determine a predisposition to alcoholism is very important. Understanding that you or a loved one is one of those people often creates the motivation to get professional help with abstaining from alcohol. It allows everyone involved to come from a place of love and compassion for a diseased person.
For more information about Dr. Joseph Kirkpatrick, please visit his website at DoctorJFK.com.