Alcohol Addiction

Speak to a doctor for just $35 with our Telehealth service.Book now


Alcohol Addiction

Healthylife Pharmacy13 January 2018|4 min read

Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance, for example, alcohol or nicotine, and/or engages in an activity, such as gambling or shopping, which can be pleasurable but the continuation of which becomes compulsive and as a result interferes with responsibilities such as work, relationships, and health.

People who have developed an addiction may not be aware that their behaviour is out of control and causing problems for themselves and for others around them.

About Addiction

The term addiction is used in several different ways. One definition describes physical addiction. This is a biological state in which the body adapts to the presence of a drug so that drug no longer has the same effect, otherwise known as tolerance. Another form of physical addiction is the phenomenon of overreaction by the brain to drugs or to cues associated with the drugs. An alcoholic walking into a bar, for instance, will feel an extra pull to have a drink because of these cues.

Most addictive behaviour is not related to either physical tolerance or exposure to cues. People commonly use drugs, gamble, or shop compulsively in reaction to stress, whether or not they have a physical addiction. Since these addictions are not based on drug or brain effects, they can account for why people frequently switch addictive actions from one drug to a completely different kind of drug, or even to a non-drug behaviour.

The focus of the addiction isn't what matters; it's the need to take action under certain kinds of stress.

When referring to any kind of addiction, it is important to recognize that its cause is not simply a search for pleasure and that addiction has nothing to do with one's morality or strength of character.

Experts debate whether addiction is a "disease" or a true mental illness, whether drug dependence and addiction mean the same thing, and many other aspects of addiction.

Alcohol Addiction

Substance abuse experts make a distinction between alcohol abuse and alcoholism (also called alcohol dependence). Unlike alcoholics, alcohol abusers have some ability to set limits on their drinking. However, their alcohol use is self-destructive and dangerous to themselves or others.

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a broad term for any drinking of alcohol that results in mental or physical health problems.

The disorder was previously divided into two types: alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.

In a medical context, alcoholism is said to exist when two or more of the following conditions is present:

  • a person drinks large amounts over a long time period
  • has difficulty cutting down
  • acquiring and drinking alcohol takes up a great deal of time
  • alcohol is strongly desired
  • usage results in not fulfilling responsibilities
  • usage results in social problems
  • usage results in health problems
  • usage results in risky situations
  • withdrawal occurs when stopping
  • alcohol tolerance has occurred with use

Risky situations include drinking and driving or having unsafe sex, among other things.

Negative effects of Alcohol use

Alcohol use can affect all parts of the body, but it particularly affects the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, and immune system. This can result in mental illness, Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome, an irregular heartbeat, cirrhosis of the liver, and an increase in the risk of cancer, among other diseases.

The first major warning sign of alcoholism is tolerance. As time progresses and drinking increases an individual will need more alcohol to get a’ buzz’ or have the same sense of relaxation from a drink they previously may have had from just a few drinks. 

The second sign of alcoholism is when there are issues around withdrawal from alcohol. For example a person may have the shakes in the morning when alcohol hasn’t been consumed for a period of time after rising. An alcoholic may find themselves then drinking again in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Symptoms of Withdrawal

  • Anxiety or jumpiness
  • Shakiness or trembling
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache

In severe cases, withdrawal from alcohol can also involve hallucinations, confusion, seizures, fever, and agitation.

Another major warning sign of alcoholism is denial. This is one of the biggest obstacles to getting help for alcoholism. The desire to drink is so strong that the mind finds many ways to rationalize drinking, despite the consequences being obvious. By keeping one from looking honestly at their behaviour and its negative effects, denial exacerbates alcohol-related problems with work, finances, and relationships.

Signs of Denial

  • Drastically underestimating how much one drinks
  • Downplaying the negative consequences of one’s drinking
  • Complaining that family and friends are exaggerating the problem
  • Blaming your drinking or drinking-related problems on others

For example, an alcoholic may blame an ‘unfair boss’ for trouble at work or a ‘nagging partner’ for their marital issues, rather than look at how their drinking is contributing to the problem. While work, relationship, and financial stresses happen to everyone, an overall pattern of deterioration and blaming others may be a sign of trouble.

Other signs and symptoms of alcoholism

Control has been lost over drinking. An alcoholic will often drink more alcohol than they perhaps wanted to, for longer than intended, or despite telling them self they wouldn’t drink today or at a particular time, event etc.

Wanting to quit drinking, but having trouble doing so. There may be a persistent desire to cut down or stop alcohol, but efforts to quit are repeatedly unsuccessful.

Other activities in one’s life have been given up because of alcohol. An alcoholic can slowly begin to spend less time on activities that used to be important to them such as time spent with family and friends, going to the gym, and pursuing old and new hobbies due to alcohol use.

An alcoholic will drink even though they know it’s causing problems. For example, someone may recognize that their alcohol use is damaging their marriage, making their depression worse, or causing health problems, but they continue to drink anyway.

Effects of Alcoholism

Alcoholism can affect all aspects of life. Long-term alcohol use can cause serious health complications, affecting virtually every organ in the human body, including the brain. Problem drinking can also damage emotional stability, finances, career, and the ability to build and sustain satisfying relationships. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can have an impact on family, friends and work colleagues.

Neurotransmitters and Alcohol

Alcohol acts on the brain in a very complex way, involving multiple neurotransmitters. The major neurotransmitters affected include serotonin and dopamine. 

  • Serotonin influences mood and when alcohol increases serotonin activity in the brain, humans experience an elevation in mood, happiness and feeling in love with everyone. 
  • Dopamine creates feelings of wanting, needing and liking. Dopamine is what drives humans towards pleasurable things. It is thought to be the central neurotransmitter involved in rising addiction in the first place.

The way in which dopamine is involved in addiction is complex, however, the classic idea is that elevated dopamine increases addictive drives and therefore an increased release of dopamine in the brain through alcohol abuse can increase feelings of wanting and liking which in turn can cause people to drink more and more alcohol.

Natural Remedies for Alcoholism

L-Tyrosine. Dopamine is manufactured from the amino acid precursor L-tyrosine and supplementing tyrosine can increase its production as long as there are adequate or ideally enhanced levels of the vitamin and mineral cofactors needed to convert tyrosine into dopamine. The herb Rhodiola also has a dopaminergic effect as does the amino acid NAC cysteine.

N-acetyl-Cysteine has antidepressant and anti-addictive properties. It helps to restore healthy dopamine metabolism in the brain and is also an effective remedy for detoxifying the liver, therefore making it a potentially useful remedy for alcohol abuse both for the addictive dopamine connection and cleaning up the aftermath in the liver.

L-glutamine is an essential amino acid that the body can produce on its own however, as such large amounts are required during times of stress and disease, supplementation is often recommended to avoid deficiency. Chronic alcohol exposure severely depletes levels of L-glutamine through several different mechanisms. 

  • Alcoholics derive more calories from alcohol instead of foods rich in L-glutamine.
  • Alcohol inhibits L-glutamine synthesis at the cellular level and flushes out L-glutamine because it is a diuretic. 
  • Alcohol also damages the gut, preventing proper absorption of L-glutamine.

The primary reason that L-glutamine can be used to stop alcohol cravings is that it can be converted into glucose for the brain without raising insulin levels.

The problem with relying on sugar to quench alcohol cravings is that sugar prompts the release of insulin, which robs the bloodstream of sugar and leads to escalating sugar and/or alcohol cravings. It is this vicious cycle that can lead to alcohol relapse along with diseases like diabetes and cancer.

It is important at this stage to understand that alcohol is a highly refined sugar

The alcoholic brain craves alcohol because it knows that alcohol is absorbed through the stomach lining much faster than other calories. It also knows that alcohol provides energy for the brain despite its toxic effects and has the ability to keep the brain’s calming chemicals in check.

The alcoholic brain therefore prefers alcohol to other forms of calories and in the absence of alcohol the brain will settle for the temporary satisfaction of a sugar high.

By consuming L-glutamine, many people can eliminate alcohol cravings while avoiding the roller coaster of hypoglycaemia that so many alcoholics succumb to. Supplementing with L-glutamine also offers a host of other important benefits for people in alcohol recovery. These include the following:

  • Improves brain function
  • Reduces depression, anxiety, and insomnia
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Repairs cells in the gut
  • Repairs skeletal muscles
  • Aids in fat loss
  • Aid in liver detoxification


  1. The Essence of Drug Addiction
  2. Behavioral Addiction versus Substance Addiction: Correspondence of Psychiatric and Psychological  Views
  3. Addiction and Cognition
  4. Advances in Alcoholism Treatment
  5. Natural medicines for alcoholism treatment: a review
  6. Effects of N-acetylcysteine on alcohol abstinence and alcohol-induced adverse effects in rats
  7. Getting a Knack for NAC 
  8. Potential Role of N-Acetylcysteine in the Management of Substance Use Disorders
  10. The use of a food supplementation with D-phenylalanine, L-glutamine and L-5-hydroxytriptophan in the alleviation of alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  12. Glycyl-L-glutamine injected centrally suppresses alcohol drinking in P rats