Alcoholism Causes and Risk Factors
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Over the past several decades, many studies have focused on the causes and risk factors associated with alcoholism. While there is not an exact formula to depict a person’s drinking habits, data has shown that alcohol abuse is influenced by a variety of factors. However, alcoholism is a disease that does not discriminate and can impact anyone – regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, body type or personal beliefs.
Alcohol dependence can form quickly and aggressively, or it may surface over a longer period of time. Regardless of when or how a drinking problem starts, there are plenty of treatment options available to help get your life back on track. Seeking professional help will provide you with the greatest chance for lasting sobriety.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an alcohol use disorder, help is only a phone call away. Contact a treatment expert now to learn about available treatment options and find a rehab facility nearby.
Causes of Alcoholism
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) can stem from different factors. After a long period of drinking, your brain begins to rely on alcohol to produce certain chemicals. This is what makes it difficult for heavy drinkers to quit and can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
Several of the most common causes of alcoholism are: biological factors, environmental factors, social factors and psychological factors. Here’s a breakdown of how each one plays a role in the development of alcohol abuse.
Research has shown a close link between alcoholism and biological factors, particularly genetics and physiology. While some individuals can limit the amount of alcohol they consume, others feel a strong impulse to keep going. For some, alcohol gives off feelings of pleasure, encouraging the brain to repeat the behavior. Repetitive behavior like this can make you more vulnerable to developing alcoholism.
There are also certain chemicals in the brain that can make you more susceptible to alcohol abuse. For instance, scientists have indicated that alcohol dependence may be associated with up to 51 genes in various chromosome regions. If these genes are passed down through generations, family members are much more prone to developing drinking problems.
In recent years, studies have explored a possible connection between your environment and risk of AUD. For example, many researchers have examined whether or not a person’s proximity to alcohol retail stores or bars affect their chances of alcoholism. People who live closer to alcohol establishments are said to have a more positive outlook on drinking and are more likely to participate in the activity.
Additionally, alcohol manufacturers are bombarding the general public with advertisements. Many of these ads show drinking as an acceptable, fun and relaxing pastime. In just four decades – between 1971 and 2011 – alcohol advertising in the United States increased by more than 400 percent.
Another environmental factor, income, can also play a role in the amount of alcohol a person consumes. Contrary to popular belief, individuals who come from affluent neighborhoods are more likely to drink than those living below poverty. Gallup’s recent annual consumption habits poll showed that roughly 78 percent of people with an annual household income $75,000 or more consume alcohol. This is significantly higher than the 45 percent of people who drink alcohol and have an annual household income of less than $30,000.
Social factors can contribute to a person’s views of drinking. Your culture, religion, family and work influence many of your behaviors, including drinking. Family plays the biggest role in a person’s likelihood of developing alcoholism. Children who are exposed to alcohol abuse from an early age are more at risk of falling into a dangerous drinking pattern.
Starting college or a new job can also make you more susceptible to alcoholism. During these times, you’re looking to make new friends and develop relationships with peers. The desire to fit in and be well-liked may cause you to participate in activities that you normally wouldn’t partake in. Before you know it, you’re heading to every company happy hour, drinking more frequently and even craving alcohol after a long workday – all warning signs of AUD.
Different psychological factors may increase the chances of heavy drinking. Every person handles situations in their own unique way. However, how you cope with these feelings can impact certain behavioral traits. For example, people with high stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions are more vulnerable to developing alcoholism. In these types of circumstances, alcohol is often used to suppress feelings and relieve the symptoms of psychological disorders.
Over time, drinking can become habitual and lead to an AUD. The more you turn to alcohol to ease feelings of pain and hardship, the more your body becomes tolerant to the drug and relies on its effects. Co-occurring alcohol abuse and mental health conditions, like depression, bipolar and schizophrenia, can cause an array of serious side effects. In order to overcome these issues, each one should be treated separately by a medical specialist.
Roughly 43 percent of Americans have been exposed to alcoholism in the family.
An estimated one-third of alcohol abusers report experiencing a mental illness.
Excessive alcohol consumption costs the United States more than $220 billion each year which combines lost productivity, health care costs, criminal justice costs and other effects.
Alcoholism Risk Factors
There are many risk factors involved in the potential for developing alcoholism. Alcoholism risk factors do not mean you will develop a drinking problem; however, they should serve as a prevention measure. If you have one of more risk factors, talk with a medical health professional about alcoholism warning signs and prevention resources.
Several common alcohol abuse risk factors include:
Drinking at an Early Age
Experimenting with alcohol at a young age can lead to problems later on in life, especially in your 20s and 30s. This is especially true when adolescents engage in frequent binge drinking. While drinking early on can increase the likelihood of alcohol abuse, alcoholism can affect anyone at any age.
Family History with Alcohol Addiction
Growing up around family members and close relatives that suffer from alcoholism increases the risk of alcohol abuse for generations to come. When you’re surrounded by people who drink excessively, you can look at alcohol use differently and fall victim to bad habits.
High Levels of Stress
Drinking in an effort to reduce stress can quickly turn problematic. Career paths that are more likely to face high levels of stress due to long hours and strenuous tasks include doctors, nurses, emergency rescue workers, construction workers and military. It’s important for professionals of any industry to find other ways to de-stress in order to prevent alcohol abuse.
When a partner or close friend frequently drinks, you may be more inclined to join them. Giving into peer pressure can lead to drinking problems down the road, as well as many health complications that arise from excessive alcohol consumption. Rather than feel the need to drink, offer to be designated driver.
Frequent Alcohol Consumption Over a Long Period
When drinking too much becomes a pattern, you greatly increase your chances of developing an alcohol-related problem. The more you drink, the more your body builds a tolerance to alcohol. Tolerance means you’ll need more alcohol to feel the same effects you used to feel with less.
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Why People Relapse
Staying healthy and maintaining your sobriety takes time and dedication. Unfortunately, some people relapse after alcohol treatment. Triggers, including a group of friends who drink, certain activities or circumstances can lead someone to fall back into old drinking habits.
Relapsing does not mean you’ve failed and cannot overcome alcoholism. It makes you aware of triggers and may motivate you to seek additional help from a counselor or support group. Participating in on-going treatment methods provides you with a greater chance for long-term sobriety than those who do not continue recovery with maintenance programs.
Reasons why some people relapse are:
- Old habits
- Stress and anxiety
- Social pressures
- Mental or emotional instability
- Anger or frustration
- Temptation to feel drunk again
Treatment is the first step toward a better tomorrow. Alcohol treatment specialists work with you to create a personalized comprehensive recovery plan with measureable goals. Comprehensive recovery plans may include inpatient or outpatient treatment, medication-assisted therapy, counseling and support groups.
The Time for Help Is Now
If you or a loved one are seeking help for alcoholism, we’re here to help. From the admissions process to aftercare programs, we will guide you through each step of recovery.
Contact one of our treatment specialists, and find top-rated rehab facilities close to home.
Author — Last Edited: December 10, 2018
Mayo Clinic. (2015). Alcohol Use Disorder: Causes. November 2016. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/basics/causes/con-20020866
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Psychosocial Factors in Alcohol Use and Alcoholism. November 2016. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/10report/chap03c.pdf
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (2015). Family History and Genetics. November 2016. https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/family-history-and-genetics
Foroud, Edenberg, Crabbe. (2010). Genetic Research: Who is at Risk for Alcoholism? November 2016. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh40/64-75.pdf
A.D.A.M. Alcohol Use Disorder. November 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/alcoholism/causes.html
Kaufman, Alexander. (2015). Why You’re Getting Bombarded with More Alcohol Ads than Ever Before. November 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/30/99-ad-buys-of-beer-on-the-wall_n_6957198.html
Jones, Jeffrey. (2015). Drinking Highest Among Educated, Upper-Income Americans. November 2016. http://www.gallup.com/poll/184358/drinking-highest-among-educated-upper-income-americans.aspx
White and Jackson. (2004-2005). Social and Psychological Influences on Emerging Adult Drinking Behavior. November 2016. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh284/182-190.pdf