Why Is It So Hard To Stop Drinking Alcohol?

Chronic alcohol consumption can make it difficult to stop drinking, even if it is detrimental to your health. This may be due to alcohol’s habit-forming potential, its ability to change your brain chemistry, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms that may occur when you try to quit.

The CDC recommends people limit their alcohol intake to 2 standard drinks a day for men and 1 standard drink a day for women. Responsible drinking habits can reduce the risk of short-term and long-term side effects while making it easier to stop drinking.

Drinking alcohol above the recommended limits can subject you to the negative effects of alcohol. Once a drinking problem develops, it can be difficult to quit without professional help.

Alcohol & The Brain

Alcohol can cause euphoria, increased sociability, and reduced anxiety upon consumption. This may be caused by alcohol’s interactions with the basal ganglia, a part of the brain responsible for rewarding behavior.

When an alcoholic drink activates the basal ganglia for a short-term, the effects of alcohol may eventually wear off. Sobriety can feel undesirable in comparison, as the brain’s reward systems are not active. 

This discrepancy can motivate further drinking, and the amount of alcohol ingested can increase over time.

As alcohol consumption progresses into heavy drinking, your brain chemistry may change. 

The basal ganglia may not function at its usual capacity without alcohol, which is a sign of alcohol dependence. These changes in your brain chemistry and a decline in your mental health can make it difficult to stop drinking.

Alcohol Use Disorder

An alcohol use disorder is defined by unregulated drinking and a negative emotional state when drinking stops. A person’s priorities may revolve around alcohol consumption in this state.

When not drinking alcohol, a person may experience dysphoria, depressive feelings, and cravings for alcohol. These behavioral changes may be a sign of unregulated drinking in a loved one.

Effects Of Alcohol Use Disorder

Chronic heavy alcohol use can be detrimental to your mental and physical health. Over time, alcohol can damage the liver, contribute to cardiovascular failure, and disrupt the gastrointestinal tract.

Despite the potentially serious damage to the liver, heart, GI tract, and other areas of the body, alcohol use may continue due to a physical and mental inability to stop drinking.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

A person with physical dependency on alcohol may experience withdrawal when they stop drinking. This may be due to the body’s inability to function without alcohol.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, and may include:

  • upset stomach
  • palpitations
  • headache
  • high blood pressure
  • hallucinations
  • severe cravings
  • seizures
  • delirium tremens (DTS)

Some of these symptoms, such as delirium tremens, can be life-threatening. DTS may require professional treatment to manage. The discomfort, dysphoria, and pain caused by alcohol withdrawal can make it more difficult to stop drinking.

Treatment Options For Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder can be a cycle of chronic use, withdrawal, and relapse, all while your overall health declines. Quitting alcohol all at once, or cold turkey, can be dangerous due to the severity of withdrawal.

An alcohol addiction treatment program may be a safer alternative for people looking to reduce their alcohol use. Treating alcohol addiction may involve a detoxification or detox phase, followed by behavioral therapy, referrals to support groups, and supervised medication.

Contact Northeast Addictions Treatment Center to find out if our outpatient substance use disorder treatment plan works for you or a family member.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Facts about moderate drinking

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — The Cycle of Alcohol Addiction

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs

Written by
Northeast Addition Editorial Team

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This page does not provide medical advice.