Affecting the Brain’s Reward Pathways

The Bel Air Center for Addictions recognizes the complexity of alcohol dependence, and treats each patient with comprehensive care designed to respond to his or her individual circumstances. Not every person who abuses alcohol is an alcoholic. Some individuals can reduce the harmful effects of alcohol on their lives by decreasing their alcohol consumption. Others must attempt to stop drinking altogether. An addiction specialist offers a range of treatments, from helping a problem drinker recognize his situation and embrace the need for change, to intensive intervention with detoxification, medication, and counseling. No single treatment works in every case or in every person, but appropriate treatment with medications, counseling, and referrals can help manage alcohol withdrawal, reduce cravings, and provide essential support to the addicted patient. Alcohol abuse unravels individuals, families, and neighborhoods. However, with specialized care and patience such as that given other complex diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, people addicted to alcohol can find reason for hope and the possibility of a better life.

Nearly 14 million Americans abuse alcohol or are alcoholic. Alcohol abuse destroys families, undermines communities, and contributes to 100,000 deaths each year, including half of all traffic fatalities. In addition to its untold emotional costs, alcohol abuse takes a staggering financial toll. Every year, alcohol dependence and abuse costs Americans over $100 billion in lost earnings, medical care, alcohol-related crime, and accident damage.

Society pays a great price for alcohol abuse, but it also helps to promote it. Movies, music, and advertising imply that drinking makes people glamorous, sophisticated, and popular. Excessive drinking is often laughed at and seen as a harmless and natural rite of passage to adulthood. In fact, alcohol dependence can lead to broken families, financial problems, physical injuries and illnesses, legal crises, and psychological devastation.

Scientists view alcoholism not as a reflection of weak character but rather as a complex, chronic, lifethreatening disease with powerful psychological and genetic components. Alcohol acts on the brain’s reward pathways through intricate mechanisms that are not fully understood. The disease takes many forms and defies an easy solution. Some people are able to maintain fairly normal function, superficially masking their drinking problems, while others lose complete control of their lives. Whatever their personal situation, individuals suffering from alcohol dependence are at a significant risk for a multitude of medical, legal, financial, and social problems.