Reasons and Factors for Alcoholism
Author: Thomas Roth
Last Updated: 1/12/2022
Alcoholism, commonly known as alcohol use disorder, is a chronic condition induced by consuming uncontrollable amounts of alcohol. While alcoholism takes many forms and varies from person to person, some common factors lead to alcoholism. The good news is that many of them are even predictable.
For example, some of the common reasons stem from stress, work, anxiety, mental health disorders, and even something as simple as drinking frequently. If you're unsure if you or a loved one is suffering from alcoholism, or if you're interested in preventing the issue from happening, you're in the right place.
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What are the Factors That Cause Alcoholism?
10 main factors contribute to alcoholism. Unfortunately, people can also experience more than one of these factors at the same time. Moreover, the more factors someone suffers from the higher chance of alcoholism development.
1. Biological Factors
We'll begin with biological factors. Studies that suggest 50% of alcoholism cases can be attributed to genetics. Moreover, the American Society of Addictions considers addiction a disease of the brain, which is chronic.
Therefore, it's not always about a person being weak-minded or unable to manage their inhibitions.
2. Social Factors
Social factors also lead to alcoholism. These factors can occur when someone is young or older, so it's something to continually monitor. Some examples of social factors in younger people include bullying, peer pressure, gang activity, excessive popularity, and negative family life.
When social factors impact adults it looks different. For example, some examples for adults include stress from work, a poor choice in friends, and family influences.
There are dozens of potential social factors but these are the main causes.
3. Environmental Factors
Environmental factors can also lead to alcoholism. These are challenging to distinguish from social factors but there are a few examples to look at.
First and foremost, if a child grows up in a home with abuse or a lack of proper parenting, the child can resort to drugs or alcohol to cope. Moreover, environmental factors can also be based on where a person lives, hangs out and chooses to socialize.
Psychology can also impact alcoholism and the chances of someone becoming an alcoholic. This is because mental health disorders like anxiety, stress, and depression can lead to people using alcohol as a form of escapism.
Another issue with psychology is that drinking alcohol changes the chemicals in the brain. This changes the way dopamine and serotonin are released, which can lead to depression and anxiety when not drinking.
While drinking is a temporary solution for many, it becomes a major issue over the long term as it becomes a habit.
What Are the Reasons for Alcoholism?
Alcoholism starts for many reasons and it depends on the person. That said, there are common reasons you can look for and they're consistent across most populations. For example, drinking from an early age and family history are universal contributors to alcoholism.
1. Family History
One of the first reasons is family history. A person's family history is one of the best indicators for a plethora of issues. That said, family history impacts alcoholism because of genetics. If someone's family has many alcohol abusers there is a good chance that they have a genetic predisposition to alcohol abuse disorder.
Unfortunately, this makes family history one of the most common reasons for alcoholism and one of the most predictable ones.
2. Drinking From an Early Age
The human brain doesn't finish developing until you reach 26 years old. This means that drinking or doing drugs at an early age can impact the way someone's brain develops. For example, alcohol changes the chemicals within your brain and can contribute to mental health disorders with long-term use. In fact, studies show that people who drink from an early age are more likely to come down with addictions and mental health issues. For this reason, teenage alcoholism is a common problem that can turn into alcohol abuse disorder later in life.
3. Stressful Environments
Stressful environments also lead to increased alcohol use. When people experience tough times at work or home, turning to alcohol is common. Drinking under these circumstances causes people to become dependent on alcohol to release stress, which begins to make alcohol consumption a habit.
While there are many stressors to look for, the most common ones include divorce, abuse, and work-related issues.
4. Mental Health Disorders
Mental health disorders can also make people more likely to develop alcohol use disorder. This is because ailments like depression and anxiety can be temporarily relieved by alcohol, which causes drinking to become a habit. Unfortunately, this type of self-medicating is dangerous and leads to alcoholism.
People who suffer from alcohol abuse and mental health disorders simultaneously are referred to as dual diagnosis cases. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, this impacts 37% of alcoholics.
5. Peer pressure
Peer pressure is a major factor that leads to alcohol consumption and abuse. This tends to occur at younger ages where people are more susceptible to peer pressure. Moreover, this tends to happen when teenagers begin drinking underage.
When teenagers frequently engage in this behavior it becomes a health concern. Alcohol can become the only way they have fun or the primary activity when hanging with friends.
6. Frequent Alcohol Consumption Over Time
The more someone drinks over time the higher the chance of developing alcohol use disorder. In fact, the younger someone starts and the length of time they drink are some of the biggest factors that lead to an alcohol abuse disorder.
Therefore, drinking frequently over long periods increases the chance of developing alcoholism in almost everyone.
Trauma like PTSD and abuse can lead to alcoholism. This is because people begin to use alcohol as a way to self-medicate and reduce the impact of symptoms. Moreover, people who suffer from severe trauma might use alcohol in combination with other substances to maintain happiness, sleep at night, and function through the day.
8. Drinking to Cope
Alcoholism can also develop in people who use drinking as a coping mechanism. Coping with alcohol leads to more frequent consumption because it becomes a habit and primary method to cope. Moreover, if someone uses drinking to cope they fail to address the issue with a more effective coping mechanism.
When someone drinks to cope it becomes a cycle that often leads to increased alcohol consumption because the relief becomes less potent over time.
9. Lack of Family Supervision
Family supervision is huge for people of all ages. For children, parents that don't know their children are drinking can lead to alcoholism going unnoticed for years –even decades. This is why it's important for parents to always monitor their children to prevent alcoholism from becoming a serious issue.
Family supervision is also important for adults. Even adults slip into habits without realizing how bad they are. In these cases, having a family member intervene can prevent alcoholism before it starts.
10. Drinking Alcohol With Medication
The last reason to look at is drinking alcohol with medication. Some medications increase or enhance the effects of alcohol on the body. This is a dangerous combination because it leads to people abusing alcohol with other substances. When this occurs, the condition becomes harder to treat and manage.
Who is at High Risk for Alcoholism
Alcoholism can happen to anyone. That said, people with a family history or a history of mental health disorders are more likely to suffer from alcohol use disorder. Teenage alcoholism is also a condition that develops in teenagers who have a family history of alcohol abuse. While the seriousness of the issue depends on each person, everyone is at risk for alcoholism if the substance is consumed frequently.
Here is a look at some of the most high-risk groups for alcoholism:
People who experience peer pressure to consume alcohol
Binge drinkers (people who consume a rapid amount of alcohol in a short amount of time)
Having someone in the family who is addicted to alcohol
Low confidence and self-esteem
Poor family and home life
Children whose parents got divorced
Children who suffer from abuse
People with mental health disorders
Alcoholism impacts many people, so it's important to note that individual risk can also increase or decrease depending on someone's situation. For example, if someone leaves an abusive relationship, the chances of developing alcohol abuse disorder drop. Unfortunately, this also works the other way too.
How to Self Test for Alcoholism
If you want to self-test for alcoholism we recommend using the AUDIT addiction test. The test was developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the early 1980s and consists of 10 questions. The test puts 95% of its takers into an alcoholic group or a non-alcoholic group. While the test is basic, it's one of the best ways to get results quickly.
That said, it's recommended to use this test with your primary care provider or therapist. This is because they'll have a better understanding of the results and can make a diagnosis.
How is a Professional Diagnosis Made?
A professional diagnosis is made by monitoring a person's health and behavior patterns. There are no official tests for alcoholism, aside from the AUDIT Addiction Self Test but doctors have come up with ways to see the physical and mental symptoms of alcohol abuse. For example, doctors can run lab tests to see the condition of the liver, stomach, and heart.
Doctors will typically draw blood for these tests and can even see elevated blood markers that indicate alcohol use disorder.
Is Alcoholism Hereditary or Genetic?
According to research conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, genetic factors account for roughly half of alcoholism cases. While there has been a debate about this evidence for decades, scientists and mental health professionals are starting to agree that alcoholism is hereditary.
Researchers have also found that some genes play a much bigger role than other genes –it depends on only a few. For example, the gene responsible for GABA movement in neuron synapses is one of the most important genes for predicting alcohol abuse disorder.
This is because the gene can boost feelings of pleasure and happiness when consuming alcohol. Moreover, it can simultaneously reduce the impact of vomiting or nausea. Still, more research is needed to confirm these theories but it's clear that genes do play a role in alcohol abuse disorder cases.
Why Do People Relapse in Alcohol Addiction?
People relapse in alcohol addiction cases for many reasons. Some of them are simple, like stress and cravings, while others are more complicated and related to habits. These are hard behaviors to change and require long-term treatment solutions or strict inpatient care. This is why many people who recover from alcoholism swear by using groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Still, the most common reasons for people relapsing in alcohol addiction include:
Use of other substances
Mental health disorders
Revisiting places like an old bar or hangout
Unfortunately, relapses are common in cases of alcoholism. In fact, 90% of recovering alcoholics will relapse (at least once) within 4 years of treatment or quitting. The good news is that relapses don't have to be the end of recovery.
If you or a loved one has experienced a relapse you'll want to follow these steps:
Stop drinking immediately and dispose of any leftover alcohol
Get support from an AA group or family member for accountability
Identify what triggered the relapse
Take steps to prevent those triggers
While these steps seem simple, people need to take their time and work the process. If someone relapses frequently, it's a good idea to seek outpatient solutions and if someone relapses back into a full addiction it's time to seek more serious inpatient treatment options.
Do Alcoholism Risk Factors Affect the Treatment and Relapse?
Risk factors do impact treatment and relapse in people who suffer from alcoholism. This is because triggers can make it harder to recover and people with a high risk of becoming an alcoholic don't suddenly lose that risk when getting treated. For these reasons, high-risk individuals need to remain sober, avoid triggers, and stay away from bad influences that can lead to relapse. These groups can also suffer from more intense bouts of drinking that lead to addiction again.
While triggers make it hard to recover from addiction, it doesn't mean they have to ruin your chances every single time. If you want to recover and avoid your triggers, we recommend working on foundational habits like exercise, therapy, groups like AA, proper nutrition, resting, meditation, and staying away from old hangouts or people you used to drink with.