Why is Alcohol Harder to Quit than Other Drugs?

JP Chastain
December 26, 2019

If you have ever struggled with quitting alcohol and drugs, then you know how difficult it can be, especially around the holidays. Overcoming an addiction and staying sober are essential to leading a healthy and fulfilling life. For those who do not know, addiction is considered to be a disease of the brain that can permanently alter the brain's circuitry patterns and affects how the brain functions on a daily basis. It is often characterized by the inability to stop using drugs or alcohol despite the user having experienced severe and negative consequences throughout their lives. While any addiction is hard to overcome, there are some that are more difficult than others.

What can make a substance more difficult to quit is how addictive it is. Alcohol or drug addiction is formed when the brain begins to depend on the excess release of certain chemicals, like dopamine, due to the use of drugs or alcohol. These chemicals send signals back and forth between neurons, helping to establish good habits that are normally dependent on survival, such as eating or having sex. When a person takes drugs or alcohol, they are releasing the same chemicals inside the brain that give us feelings of pleasure, essentially tricking our brain into believing that we need drugs or alcohol in order to survive. The repeated release of these chemicals without a natural reward is what eventually causes a person to become addicted, although, sometimes all it takes is just one time for someone to develop a substance abuse problem. alcohol-hard-to-quit-alcoholic-addiction-help

Alcohol and Factors for Addiction

It can be difficult to determine how addictive a drug is to any one person, but in the United States alone, alcohol is the most commonly used and addictive substance. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, over 14 million people in the United States over the age of 18 suffered from an alcohol addiction in the year of 2017. That translates to 1 in 8 Americans experiencing an addiction to alcohol. Furthermore, 1.8 percent of youth aged 12-17 also suffered from a problem with alcohol abuse that year. With so many other harmful substances out there, why is it that alcohol seems to remain the biggest problem for addiction in America? Research and science has shown that there are 5 common factors for addictiveness when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

  • Dependence- Dependence rates on alcohol are very high. As mentioned earlier, Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in America. This can partially be attributed to the fact that alcohol is the most socially acceptable drug and it is also one of the most highly marketed substances since it is legal in all 50 states. Alcohol can be seen at most social gatherings and is also widely available as it is sold at gas stations, restaurants, grocery markets, and liquor stores. Not many people would bat an eye if you had a drink at dinner, so it can make someone with an alcohol dependence that much harder to spot.
  • Withdrawal- Research suggests that nicotine withdrawal is worse than the symptoms for recovering heroin addicts or people who use crystal meth. However, withdrawal symptoms for alcohol are even worse as it is one of the very few addictions where fatal symptoms can occur during the withdrawal process, killing the person going through them. Symptoms from alcohol withdrawal can include;
    • Agitation
    • Anxiety
    • Headaches
    • Nausea and Vomiting
    • Seizures
    • Insomnia
    • High Blood Pressure
    • High Fever and Excessive Sweating
    • Delusions
    • Auditory and Visual Hallucinations
    • Delirium Tremens (DT)

If you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms of any kind from alcohol, it is always suggested you seek professional care as any number of complications can arise. Delirium Tremens are the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal and, out of those who experience them, 5-25% of people will die without medical treatment. alcohol-addiction-treatment-Houston-Texas-San-Antonio-Austin-TX

  • Tolerance- While increased tolerance is a big concern for any drug, most people will tell you that they can drink more now than they could when the first began drinking, even if they don't have what is considered to be an alcohol problem. Again, thanks to the social acceptability of alcohol, it is common to go out drinking on the weekends with your friends or to have a few drinks with family on special occasions like Christmas, New Year's Eve, or the 4th of July. What makes alcohol even more dangerous is that its effectiveness can depend on many factors like how much a person ate that day.
  • Reinforcement- Reinforcement as a factor for addiction refers to how likely a person is to seek out the same substance again after using it. Alcohol has a high reinforcement rate as it is a common substance used in social experimentation. It also creates feelings of increased self confidence and “liquid courage”. It is a common drug for peer pressure early on in life and, unfortunately, can cause an unexpected addiction at a young age. Research suggests that the younger a person is when they are exposed to an addictive substance, the more likely they are to develop an addiction.
  • Intoxication- How high a person gets on a drug is also a factor for how addictive it can be. When it comes to alcohol, how high a person gets on the substance can greatly vary. However, people who consume alcohol can become very intoxicated before reaching the point of overdose. Due to the consequences of heavy drinking, when compared to other substances, most people believe that binge drinking is not an issue. Sadly, this is not the case, as an estimated 88,000 people die annually from alcohol related causes, making it the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States alone, behind tobacco and poor diet.

With all these factors combined, it is not difficult to understand why alcohol is one of the hardest drugs to quit. Not only is it commonly accepted but it is widely available and has many common misconceptions about its use. Even many members of the US military and their families are prone to alcohol abuse. No one deserves to struggle with an addiction by themselves, if you or someone you know are having a difficult time quitting drugs or alcohol, then we are here to help. A new life begins with making one simple step and there is life without drugs or alcohol.


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About The Author: 
JP Chastain
Paul Chastain is a psychology graduate from Columbia University in the City of New York, who has helped countless people with addiction journalism since 2008.

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