Why do we get drunk?
Drinking alcohol leads to a host of immediate changes in brain chemicals. One of the key brain chemicals involved in mediating the euphoric effects of alcohol is dopamine. It tells us that something we have ingested is pleasurable and consequently we seek more of it. This is why some of us will continue to drink to the point of drunkenness.
Alcohol hijacks our decision-making processes and tells us to continue drinking when we should have stopped.
An important question is: who is most likely to run into difficulties with alcohol - either by getting drunk or becoming addicted? The answer lies in both genetics and the environment.
It is clear even on casual observation that alcoholism runs in families in Ireland. Genes determine how quickly we get drunk and how likely we are to want to get drunk again.
Life has become more demanding through recessionary pressures. People are working harder and longer. Mobile-device usage has also increased dramatically in the past 10 years, adding to the hectic pace of life. The stressful environment leads people to seek pleasure and reward from substances. Alcohol is the starting place for many who are stressed as it is ubiquitous in our society.
Intoxication with alcohol has long been and remains a part of Irish life. Irish people are, however, also becoming more informed about the toxic effects of alcohol and its ability to produce negative medical outcomes. The most sobering data of recent times are within the studies of relative harm which demonstrate of all the drugs used by societies, alcohol is the most harmful to self and others. Yes, more harmful than a long list of illegal drugs including crack cocaine and heroin. This probably comes as a surprise to many readers, but not to those of us who work in the addictions treatment field, who encounter the misery of alcohol overuse on a daily basis.
Dr Colin O'Gara
St John of God Hospital