Why Do We Drink?

Why do we drink

When we make the decision to reduce or discontinue alcohol use, we take a radical step toward reclaiming our power and returning to ourselves. However, we may be surprised by how difficult it is. Even “gray-area drinkers” - those who fall somewhere in between a “normal” drinker and a “problem” drinker - may find that there are still significant physiological and psychological barriers to changing their alcohol use. This is completely normal, and when we better understand alcohol use, we gain the power to make informed decisions and change.

So why do we drink?

When understanding why we use alcohol the way we do, it’s important to consider what alcohol actually is: ethyl alcohol, ETOH, a chemical depressant, a drug. Alcohol is the only legal drug in many countries, but it is just that; a drug. That’s not to say that labels are the only thing to consider when examining our relationship with alcohol, because oftentimes labels (like “alcoholic,” “addict,” etc.) are actually barriers to addressing our issues. However, when we can see it more plainly, it helps illuminate why it’s so difficult to put down.

And the thing about alcohol is that it has significant short and long-term effects on a multitude of bodily functions, leaving us wanting more. Of particular note is the brain and the central nervous system. We’ll go into greater depth about brain chemistry down the road, but alcohol has a direct impact on our body’s production of important chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and cortisol—the things that impact our happiness, mood, anxiety, and stress. It depresses our nervous system, meaning it slows it down. It impacts parts of the brain that drive pleasure, our decision making, our motor skills, and our overall cognition. It can even deteriorate these structures with extended use.

These are the systems that keep asking for more. Alcohol has altered their function and without it we feel agitated, depressed, anxious, and stressed. When we remember that alcohol is truly a drug, and drugs significantly impact brain function, it helps us treat ourselves with compassion. Quitting alcohol is so much more than just willpower—it requires intentional healing of our bodies and our minds.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, February 16). Alcohol Questions and Answers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm.