Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, is a chronic disease that causes cravings, loss of control, physical dependence, and tolerance to alcohol. The causes and risk factors of alcoholism can begin during childhood, but have a different impact on the progression of each individual’s disease.
Causes Of Alcoholism
Alcoholism (alcohol dependence) is an addiction to the consumption of alcohol. Alcoholism can develop during any point in a person’s life, and it can have many different causes. There is no single, simple reason why some individuals develop an alcohol problem. The most obvious cause of alcoholism is drinking too much alcohol, but alcohol affects each person differently.
Researchers have not found any conclusive evidence that one factor was solely responsible for causing the brain changes seen in a person with alcoholism. There are dozens of causes of alcoholism other than heavy drinking. Some of the most common causes of alcoholism are environmental factors, psychological factors, genetic factors, and social factors.
Even though alcoholism is considered a behavioral disease, the environmental factors in each person’s life may play a part in whether or not they’ll drink alcohol. Environmental factors of alcoholism include product availability, social attitude, and advertisements for alcohol in the media. Researchers have even studied whether or not a person’s proximity to bars will make them want to drink.
It’s impossible to state that alcohol advertisements are directly responsible for alcohol consumption, but they do affect attitudes about drinking. Alcohol advertisements might make a person want to drink by depicting alcohol as an acceptable way to have a good time or relax.
When a person uses alcohol, their brain becomes flooded with serotonin, which is responsible for emotions like happiness. Over time, alcohol can make the brain stop producing certain chemicals like serotonin.
People with alcoholism may develop psychological traits like low self-esteem, depression, or impulsiveness that may prompt further alcohol consumption. On the other hand, an individual with depression or anxiety is more likely to become a problem drinker.
Some people use alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate for the symptoms of their mental disorder. Using alcohol to cope with a mental disorder is dangerous.
The symptoms of a mental disorder can increase an individual’s perceived need for alcohol to feel normal or to feel comfortable in social situations. The more a person turns to alcohol to ease emotional hardships, the more likely they are to develop alcohol dependence. When a mental disorder occurs at the same time as alcohol use disorder, it’s called a co-occurring disorder.
Over the years, experts have studied the relationship between genetics and alcoholism. What they found is that children of alcoholics are more likely to develop alcoholism, whether or not they’re raised by their biological parents. Yet genetics alone may not cause a person to develop alcoholism.
Prenatal alcohol exposure occurs when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol and it passes from her bloodstream into the baby’s blood. Prenatal alcohol syndrome is a leading preventable cause of birth defects in the United States.
One in 10 American women report drinking alcohol during pregnancy, and 3.1 percent report binge drinking. Research shows that heavy drinking and binge drinking puts an unborn baby at a greater risk of developing developmental and behavioral difficulties in life. Prenatal alcohol exposure may increase a person’s chance of developing alcoholism.
Social factors often play a role in how an individual views alcohol. Some people experiment with alcohol because their friends are doing it, and they want to fit in. It’s estimated that 60 percent of people 18 years or older have tried alcohol. A teenager is more likely to drink alcohol if both of their parents are drinkers.
A curious teenager might take alcohol from his or her parents, and share it with their friends. Teenagers may drink less often than adults, but they are more likely to binge drink, which is dangerous. Not every teenager who drinks develops alcoholism.
Risk Factors Of Alcoholism
Alcoholism can strike at any age, and many people who develop it in their adult years don’t see it coming. Nearly every person has encountered a risk factor for developing alcoholism, but some risks are more apparent than others. Yet not every person at risk of alcoholism develops it. Knowing the risk factors of alcoholism can help an individual take preventative measures against it.
Family History With Alcoholism
Genetics may not be the only familial risk factor for developing alcoholism. Simply growing up with a parent, sibling, or grandparent with alcoholism can increase a person’s likelihood of drinking. For some people, alcohol is so ingrained into everything they know that they’re almost destined to pick up the same habits as their family.
Drinking At An Early Age
A person’s age can be a contributor to whether or not they’ll abuse alcohol. High school and college students are more likely to binge drink. Binge drinking for a man is defined as five drinks in two hours, and for a woman binge drinking is four drinks in two hours. A young adult’s brain hasn’t fully developed yet, and for these young people, alcohol abuse is more likely to cause permanent changes to the brain.
Studies show that binge drinking generally begins around age 13, and increases during adolescence, peaks in young adulthood, and then gradually decreases. Binge drinking is dangerous, and even if it doesn’t always lead to alcoholism, it can lead to alcohol poisoning.
How Much And How Often A Person Drinks
The more often a person drinks heavily, the higher their body’s tolerance to alcohol becomes. An alcohol tolerance suggests that more alcohol is needed to achieve the same effect. Even if a person doesn’t develop alcoholism, heavy drinking may lead to brain, liver, and heart damage.
Using alcohol to cope with stress, anxiety, or insomnia can contribute to alcohol dependence. Certain work environments may increase a person’s stress levels, which has potential to increase the risk of alcohol abuse. The career fields with the highest level of heavy alcohol use are mining, construction, and food services.
Signs Of Alcoholism
Recognizing if somebody has a drinking problem isn’t always easy. There are so many things that factor into an addiction to alcohol that even the most obvious are beyond comprehension. Alcoholism affects every gender, race, age, and religion, but no two cases of alcoholism are exactly the same. Many people don’t realize that they have an alcohol use disorder until they’re unable to stop drinking.
The following is a list of questions to help determine if an individual has an alcohol problem. In the past year, have they:
- Wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Ended up drinking more or for a longer time than they had planned to?
- Spent a lot of your time drinking, or recovering from drinking?
- Ever felt a strong need to drink?
- Found that drinking—or being sick from drinking—often interfered with family life, job, or school?
- Kept drinking even though it was causing trouble with family or friends?
- Given up or cut back on activities to drink?
- Gotten into dangerous situations while drinking or after drinking? Some examples are driving drunk and having unsafe sex.
- Kept drinking even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious? Or when it was adding to another health problem?
- Had to drink more and more to feel the effects of the alcohol?
- Had withdrawal symptoms when the alcohol was wearing off? They include trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, and sweating. In severe cases, you could have a fever, seizures, or hallucinations.
Alcoholism is hard to face alone, and many people are unable to see it as a problem until they’re unable to stop drinking. Finding the right path to recovery requires footwork, and to a person suffering from alcohol addiction that can seem daunting.
Getting sober may require the help of compassionate professionals who understand alcoholism. In an alcohol treatment center, patients are given the tools to recover from alcoholism. Alcoholism is a treatable condition, and an alcohol treatment center may be the best place to start.
Contact AlcoholTreatment.net to learn about alcohol treatment programs.
- Is There A Cure For Alcoholism?
- Alcoholism And Relationships
- Alcoholism And Treatment Guide
- Physical Symptoms Of Alcoholism
- How Is Alcoholism Treated?
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention — CDC Newsroom
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Alcohol's Damaging Effect On The Brain
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Underage Drinking
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Youth Drinking Risk Factors
- National Library of Medicine — Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse