Factors that Cause Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a complex condition influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, psychological, and social factors.
Navigation: Recognizing the Risk Factors that Cause Alcoholism, Genetics and Alcohol Abuse, Environmental Factors that Lead to Alcohol Dependence, Psychological Factors, Social Factors, Early Exposure, Stress and Trauma, How to Reduce the Risk of Developing Alcohol Use Disorder, Rehab Is Your Best Chance
Alcohol use disorder (AUD), also known as alcohol addiction or alcoholism, is an unhealthy pattern of alcohol consumption that leads to physical symptoms as well as mental health effects. It is characterized by a person’s inability to control their drinking habits even when they are already experiencing the consequences.
An addicted person will keep drinking despite the problems being caused by their alcoholism. Their tolerance and alcohol dependence will have them drinking more and more alcohol just to get the same effects. Whenever they try to quit or even just reduce their intake, they experience serious withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings.
Drinking alcohol excessively puts a person at risk of developing a wide range of health problems. But despite what the stigma suggests, alcoholism is not a moral failing or a sign of weakness. It is a medical condition that requires proper treatment in a rehab setting.
It is therefore important to recognize when you or someone you love is at risk of AUD. The effects of alcoholism may range from mild to severe, but you don’t have to let it get that far. Here we will discuss the various factors that contribute to the development of alcoholism so you can stop it before it becomes a full blown addiction.
Recognizing the Risk Factors that Cause Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a complex condition influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, psychological, and social factors. We should take note that while there are many risk factors that contribute to its development, it doesn’t always guarantee that a person will automatically become addicted. It only means they are at greater risk of alcoholism.
But at the same time, this means that people who do not have a lot of risk factors can still develop alcoholism if they are not careful.
When it comes to alcoholism, there are several risk factors that may contribute to its development, including genetics, family history of alcoholism, environmental factors, stress, peer pressure, early exposure to alcohol, and the existence of a mental health disorder.
Even if someone only drinks socially, if they participate in heavy drinking or binge drinking, they continue to be at risk of alcoholism. Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol consumed once drinking begins can be a sign of problematic drinking. Unsuccessful attempts to cut back on alcohol consumption or quit altogether can indicate a potential problem.
Watch out for changes in the person’s drinking habits and behavior. Neglecting work, school, or family responsibilities in favor of alcohol consumption is a red flag. Facing legal issues, engaging in risky behavior, and straining their relationships may also indicate a drinking problem.
If their alcohol abuse continues, they may develop health problems, such as liver disease or other alcohol-related illnesses.
If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of alcoholism or is concerned about their alcohol consumption, seeking help from a healthcare provider, counselor, therapist, or support group can be beneficial. Early intervention and treatment can make a significant difference in managing alcohol-related issues.
Genetics and Alcohol Abuse
Family history of alcoholism can significantly increase the risk of developing AUD. Genetic factors are estimated to play a role in about 40-60% of the risk for alcoholism. While environmental factors and individual choices also contribute, a person’s genetic makeup can influence their susceptibility to alcoholism in several ways.
For starters, genetic factors can influence how efficiently a person’s body metabolizes alcohol. Enzymes like alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) are responsible for breaking down alcohol in the body. Genetic variants of these enzymes can lead to variations in alcohol metabolism, affecting how quickly alcohol is processed.
Some people may metabolize alcohol more slowly, leading to higher blood alcohol levels and a greater risk of alcohol-related problems.
Genes can influence the production and function of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that transmit signals in the brain. Neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and GABA are involved in the brain’s response to alcohol and its effects on mood, behavior, and impulse control.
Genetic variations can also impact the brain’s reward pathways, influencing how a person experiences pleasure and reinforcement from alcohol. This can affect the likelihood of developing alcohol dependence or addiction.
Alcoholism tends to run in families. If a person has close relatives who struggle with alcoholism, they may have a higher genetic predisposition to developing alcohol-related problems.
Keep in mind that this is just one factor among many that may contribute to alcoholism. While genetics can increase the risk of alcoholism, it doesn’t guarantee that someone will become an alcoholic.
Environmental Factors that Lead to Alcohol Dependence
The environment in which a person grows up and lives can impact their risk of alcoholism. Factors like availability of alcohol, cultural attitudes towards drinking, and peer pressure can increase or decrease a person’s likelihood of abusing alcohol.
For example, growing up in a family where alcohol abuse is common can make a person more likely to develop alcoholism themselves. Due to the combination of genetic and environmental influences, children of parents with alcohol use disorder are more likely to develop similar issues.
Having easy access to alcohol, such as living in an environment with numerous liquor stores or where alcohol is readily available, can encourage a person to drink more often. This is especially true if their culture has a particularly good attitude towards alcohol.
Different cultures and societies have varying attitudes and norms related to alcohol use. In some cultures, heavy drinking may be more accepted and even encouraged, increasing the risk of alcoholism.
Pervasive alcohol advertising and media portrayals of drinking can also shape an individual’s perceptions and attitudes toward alcohol, potentially encouraging excessive consumption. Watching a lot of ads for alcohol online can subconsciously improve a person’s attitude towards alcohol.
Speaking of culture and society, alcoholism is also influenced by the economy. Economic instability and poverty can contribute to alcoholism. Some people may turn to alcohol as a way to escape financial stress or despair.
At the same time, having limited access to healthcare, mental health services, and addiction treatment can hinder individuals from seeking help for alcohol-related issues, allowing the problem to worsen over time.
Certain personality traits and mental health conditions can influence a person’s relationship with alcohol. After all, alcoholism is a complex condition that is affected by multiple factors—some of which are personal or affecting someone on an individual level.
Having a certain type of personality can affect a person’s susceptibility to problematic drinking behaviors. Those who are impulsive, sensation-seeking, or have a tendency for risk-taking have a higher risk of engaging in harmful drinking behaviors.
At the same time, those who have low self-esteem are more vulnerable to peer pressure, which may influence their drinking behavior. They may drink just to fit in with their peers even if they don’t want to as they have a hard time saying no.
Beliefs and expectations about the effects of alcohol can shape an individual’s drinking behaviors. Those who expect positive things from alcohol may experience greater social and emotional benefits when they drink, which makes them more prone to alcohol abuse.
Those who have co-occurring mental health disorders are also more likely to develop AUD. Mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and PTSD, are commonly associated with alcoholism. People with these disorders may use alcohol as a form of self-medication to alleviate their symptoms. Unfortunately, this is only a short term solution that actually worsens the problem in the long run. Self-medication can exacerbate both the mental health condition and the alcoholism.
Understanding the psychological aspects of alcoholism can help inform prevention and treatment strategies that address the underlying emotional and cognitive factors driving problematic alcohol use.
Aside from the environment you grew up in, the people around you and your relationship with them can also affect your alcohol consumption.
Social influences, such as peer pressure and societal norms, can strongly impact your relationship and attitude towards alcohol. Some people may feel compelled to drink excessively to fit in, be accepted by their social circle, or conform to cultural expectations.
Teens and young adults are especially vulnerable to peer pressure because they want to be liked or accepted by their friends and peers. Men, in particular, are expected to drink a lot especially when they’re with their friends. This creates a cycle of men encouraging one another to drink to the point of intoxication—and they will do so regularly just to bond.
In some societies, heavy drinking may be socially acceptable or even encouraged in certain contexts. This can influence a person’s attitude towards alcohol and contribute to the development of alcohol-related problems. Celebrations, parties, and gatherings often involve drinking, which can normalize and encourage excessive alcohol use. This is when most binge drinking happens.
Sometimes it can also happen the other way around. If a person lacks strong social support systems and healthy relationships, they may experience feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression. Some individuals may turn to alcohol as a way to alleviate these negative emotions.
Similarly, people who feel marginalized, excluded, or discriminated against may turn to alcohol as a way to cope with feelings of distress and discrimination.
Prevention and intervention strategies should address social influences along with other aspects to effectively mitigate the development of alcohol use disorder.
We touched on this earlier when we talked about genetics and family history of alcohol abuse. Those who grew up in a family wherein one or more members are engaged in alcohol abuse are more likely to develop alcoholism themselves at some point in the future.
Those who start drinking at an early age are more likely to develop alcoholism. During adolescence, the brain is still developing, meaning alcohol use can have lasting effects on a person’s decision-making, emotional regulation, and impulse control. These disruptions can increase the risk of developing addictive behaviors, including alcoholism.
Early exposure to alcohol can also lead to the development of tolerance, where the body becomes accustomed to the effects of alcohol, requiring larger amounts to achieve the same desired effects. This can create a cycle of escalating alcohol consumption, increasing the risk of addiction.
And because alcohol triggers the release of dopamine, individuals who started drinking alcohol at an early age are susceptible to seeking out alcohol as a means of achieving pleasure and relief.
It’s important to note that while early exposure to alcohol can increase the risk of alcoholism, it is not a deterministic factor. Many people exposed to alcohol at a young age do not develop alcoholism, and other factors such as genetics, mental health, social support, and individual resilience also play crucial roles in the development of alcohol use disorders.
Preventative measures, education, and early intervention can help mitigate the risks associated with early alcohol exposure.
Stress and Trauma
Life comes with many challenges that are meant to help us grow as people. But sometimes, life’s challenges can get too stressful and some people turn to alcohol in order to cope with them.
Stressful situations and traumatic events can lead to an increased risk of turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism. Alcohol can temporarily numb emotional pain and distress, providing a sense of relief or escape from difficult feelings and memories. This is a short term solution as it only relaxes the individual and helps them forget their problems for a little while, but doesn’t actually contribute to the solution.
Instead, alcohol abuse creates even bigger problems for the person as it leads to health issues, strained relationships, financial problems, etc. Over time, this coping mechanism can develop into a pattern of using alcohol to manage stress and trauma, potentially leading to alcohol dependence.
Divorce, job loss, or the death of a loved one are some common causes of alcoholism due to excessive stress and trauma. They don’t directly cause alcoholism, but they can contribute to its onset and progression.
Individuals who have experienced trauma or chronic stress may also use alcohol as a form of self-medication to alleviate symptoms such as anxiety, depression, or insomnia. Alcohol can provide temporary relief from these symptoms, leading some people to consume it more frequently and in larger amounts.
People who have experienced trauma may also isolate themselves from others, leading to a lack of healthy social support. This isolation can increase the likelihood of turning to alcohol for comfort or companionship, further contributing to the development of alcoholism.
In some of the worst cases, chronic stress and trauma can lead to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and low self-esteem. These negative emotions can contribute to a person’s willingness to engage in risky behaviors, including excessive alcohol consumption.
It’s worth noting that not everyone who experiences stress or trauma will develop alcoholism. All the other factors mentioned above will still play a role in its development.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism or its underlying causes, seeking professional help is crucial.
How to Reduce the Risk of Developing Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcoholism is a treatable condition. Proper professional treatment and support can go a long way in an addicted individual’s recovery journey.
But since prevention is better than cure, there are several things you can do to reduce the risk of AUD if you think someone you love is exposed to multiple risk factors.
Reducing the risk of developing alcoholism involves making conscious lifestyle choices, seeking support, and adopting healthy habits. Here are some strategies to help minimize your risk:
Know Your Limits: Set clear personal limits on how much alcohol you consume. Stick to recommended guidelines, such as no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
Practice Moderation: Avoid binge drinking. This is defined as consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. Binge drinking can increase the risk of alcohol dependence, so do not participate in it.
Choose Your Environment: Surround yourself with people who support your healthy choices and avoid social situations where heavy drinking is the norm.
Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Develop healthy ways to cope with stress, anxiety, and other emotions, such as exercise, meditation, hobbies, or talking to a therapist.
Mindful Drinking: Be mindful of why and when you’re drinking. Avoid using alcohol as a way to escape or numb your emotions.
Educate Yourself: Understand the risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption, including its impact on physical and mental health. Being aware of the risks will help you stay on the path of sobriety.
Avoid Triggers: Identify and avoid situations, places, or people that trigger the urge to drink excessively.
Seek Support: If you’re struggling with alcohol, reach out to friends, family, or support groups. Professional help, such as counseling or therapy, can also provide guidance and coping strategies.
Healthy Lifestyle: Maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle by getting enough sleep, eating well, and engaging in regular physical activity. A healthy body and mind can better resist the negative effects of alcohol.
Set Goals: Establish clear goals for your alcohol consumption and track your progress. This can help you stay accountable and motivated to reduce your risk.
Limit Availability: Keep alcohol out of your home or limit the amount you have on hand. Reduced availability can help reduce temptation.
Avoid Peer Pressure: Don’t succumb to peer pressure to drink more than you’re comfortable with. Be assertive in declining alcohol if you choose not to drink.
Regular Check-ins: Periodically reassess your drinking habits and their impact on your life. Adjust your strategies as needed.
Remember that everyone’s relationship with alcohol is different. If you find it difficult to control your alcohol consumption or if you suspect you may have a problem with alcohol, seeking professional help from a doctor, therapist, or addiction specialist is crucial. Look for a rehab center near you today.
Rehab is Your Best Chance
Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.