Man hanging off side of a cliff.

The Science Behind What People are More Likely to Become Addicted to Alcohol

Could you be displaying these forewarning characteristics?

Man hanging off side of a cliff.
Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes…” — Steve Jobs

Early in my alcohol-conscious journey, I used to wonder what is the determining factor of why some people can drink as much as they want with no significant issues. In contrast, other people can drink alcohol, and that is the beginning of the end for them.

To be clear, I put myself in the category of the “normal drinker,” or someone who could drink alcohol with no major issues and continue to live a holistic and productive life.

As I researched, grew, and learned more about how alcohol affects us and changes our hormonal chemistry, I recognized that there is no such thing as a normal drinker. It’s just a lie the alcohol industry would lead you to believe, so you never look at your drinking and consider if you should quit when you probably should.

With that being said, however, a number of people are recognized as having a more inclined disposition to develop alcohol use disorder than others.

There’s science behind recognizing specific genes and physiological makeup in our DNA. It is a bit complicated, and it would take several tests to know if someone had what scientists sometimes call the “alcoholic gene.”

If one has this gene, however, there are a few characteristics that these individuals exhibit that you could take note of to predict if you may be more susceptible than others and should be wary.

Highly adventurous or thrill-seeking

Those more prone to developing an addiction scientifically have what is known as a more dopaminergic personality.

In their groundbreaking book The Molecule of More, authors Dr. Daniel Lieberman and Michael Long walk us through the psychological and physiological connection between how our brain is constructed and how our behaviors are shaped due to that construction.

Individuals with highly dopaminergic physiological pathways get a higher dose of dopamine than most people when they do things that constitute this response.

This causes them to have a heightened sense of pleasure when they experience anything dopamine-inducing, leading them to want to do it more often and seek out even higher versions of pleasure.

These people are typically willing to try something dangerous because it gives them a positive dopamine rush. In contrast, it would scare someone more than make them excited if they don’t share this same physiological makeup.

So, if you find yourself drawn to things that most people would find dangerous or the thought of something like jumping out of an airplane excites you, it may be something to which to pay attention.

Intense desire for novelty or newness

Individuals who typically have the higher dopaminergic hormone coursing through their body also are highly interested in experiencing things that are usually new and novel.

Part of their desire to always try something a bit risque and thrilling is that it is something different from what they may usually experience. Doing something new is probably even more critical than it being thrilling sometimes.

These people are typically interested as long as it’s something unlike anything they may have done before.

This looks like always being interested in relocating to a new place because it provides something different (not always better). It could look like always wanting to have the latest iPhone because it just came out or wanting to go to the newest restaurant in town — not because the reviews were good as much as because it’s new and novel, and different.

The desire for newness seems very strong for these individuals and is a big reason the allure of alcohol and addiction excites them.

Obsessive and compulsive

One or just a little bit is never enough.

This is the core mindset of someone prone to addiction. For these individuals, having just one of something they like or enjoy seems foreign.

I know exactly how this feels, and this is the category that I would put myself in that made me think that long-term drinking was slowly putting me on the path to addiction.

Whenever I commit to something, I go for it with an intense desire and focus that most people find impressive. What this looks like as it relates to my career and fitness is that I have always been willing to put in the extra hours and practice to improve my craft and achieve the desired results.

What this looks like regarding various things that I may like, e.g., food, places, or activities, is that I will want it as much as possible as often as possible.

When I find a restaurant that I like (shoutout to Upbeet in Atlanta), I want to go there as much as possible. When I enjoy a specific type of food, I can’t typically have a spoonful or a little bite of it. What this typically turns into is that I have an all-or-nothing personality.

I can turn something down and not have it at all, but once I get a taste, I want as much of it as possible. I can’t do an activity for leisure and just for fun. If I’m going to do it, I want to do it better than most people and definitely as well as I possibly can.

If this sounds anything like you, then there’s a good chance you also have a highly dopaminergic personality and need to be careful to ensure that addiction doesn’t sneak its way into your life.

And don’t worry, giving up alcohol didn’t stop me from wanting to crush anything I do with an absolute passion, and I still eat at Upbeet at almost any chance I possibly eat.