What are the Causes and Risk Factors of Alcoholism?

What are the Causes and Risk Factors of Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is an increasingly more common problem all across the country, destroying lives in every socioeconomic class. It seems to affect people randomly. Some people can drink casually without it ever developing into an addiction, while others can't have one drink without it contributing to their substance abuse problems. While there seems to be no way to determine who will develop an addiction to alcohol, there are indications that can help you recognize when someone is more likely to become an alcoholic.

The Risk Factors of Alcohol Addiction

Starting Young

People who start drinking in their teens or early 20s are more likely to develop an addiction to alcohol later in life. They begin by binge drinking, which is common among younger people, and this encourages continued substance abuse through life. Eventually, the abuse of alcohol will likely cause the brain to develop a dependency.

History of Alcohol Addiction in Your Family

If there have been alcoholics in your family, you're at a higher risk of developing the condition yourself. Since you're exposed to alcohol abuse regularly throughout your life, the use of alcohol becomes an accepted part of life. This increases the likelihood that you'll drink daily in your lifetime.

High Levels of Stress

Airline pilots, military personnel, and doctors are just some of the professionals who face a higher chance of developing an alcohol abuse problem. This is because they work in high-stress situations and are looking for a quick way to relieve tension and anxiety. While drinking may seem to offer that escape, developing an addiction to alcohol will only make matters worse.

Pressure From Peers

It's not uncommon for people to drink just because their friends and co-workers are doing it. You may not even be that interested in drinking, but, if you do it often enough, an addiction will develop, nonetheless. Also though your friends may enjoy alcohol without developing a problem, you don't have to follow along. Choose a non-alcoholic drink, or you can volunteer to act as the designated driver. Avoiding opportunities to drink, or finding sober friends, are essential to reducing your risks of becoming an alcoholic.

Maintaining Consumption Over Time

Even if you don't binge drink, the frequency that you do drink can contribute to your risk factors for developing alcohol addiction. For instance, suppose you only have a few drinks each weekend, but you do drink every weekend. Even this type of drinking schedule can cause your brain to build up a tolerance. Sooner or later, you'll find that you have to increase the amount of alcohol you consume to experience the same sense of euphoria. This is the first step in a cycle of addiction that will compel you to continuously increase the amount you drink and the frequency that you do drink.

The Causes of Alcoholism

Another phrase that's used to describe alcohol addiction is alcohol use disorder or AUD. When someone develops AUD, their brain has adapted to the level of neurotransmitters that are released as a response to the alcohol. This is why you experience severe withdrawal symptoms when you go too long without taking a drink. However, to reach that stage, several factors come into play. These causal factors for AUD are common among those who develop an addiction to alcohol.

Biological Causes

Alcohol affects the brain differently in different people. For some, the euphoric sensation isn't quite as compelling, and they're able to limit how much they drink. In other people, a genetic abnormality increases the drive to drink. For these individuals, they feel compelled to continue drinking and to maintain that high feeling. This abnormality is often passed down from generation to generation. The latest research shows that 51 genes contribute to causing alcohol dependency.

Environmental Causes

If you have been to rehab before, you're probably familiar with the idea that your environment can serve as a trigger for alcohol abuse. It only makes sense that people who live near bars and liquor stores are more likely to drink because the availability of alcohol is more prominent. In sociological studies, researchers also found that people from lower-income families are more likely to abuse alcohol. This is likely because alcohol is a relatively cheap and readily available means of escape.

Social Pressure

While peer pressure is considered a risk factor, it can also be regarded as a direct cause of alcohol abuse. It can cause a condition in two ways. First, as an individual grows up, he sees a relative or other adults drink regularly throughout their lives. They come to see drinking as a regular activity and also as a means of relaxing. This increases the likelihood that they will turn to alcohol as they get older.
Additionally, a little alcohol can help you loosen up intense situations. This is especially true for college students who are away from home for the first time. They begin drinking to fit in and as a means of meeting other students who share their interests. This typically leads to frequent binge drinking that opens the door to addiction. Even if the individual doesn't possess those genetic abnormalities that can cause alcohol addiction, regularly drinking as a college student can turn casual drinking into a habit.


Many people use alcohol to cope with the symptoms of mental illness. Some of the conditions that lead to alcohol abuse include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. The individual begins drinking to alleviate the symptoms of the mental illness, though they may not realize that they even have an underlying emotional disorder. They know that drinking helps them feel better. Unfortunately, this causes the brain to adjust to the presence of alcohol. Over time, it requires more frequent drinking and more amounts of alcohol to achieve that same average level of functioning. When the individual becomes sober, the symptoms of mental illness often become worse or more pronounced.

Causes of a Relapse

It requires a great deal of work and dedication to get clean and stay sober even under the guidance that an inpatient treatment facility offers. Even so, some people do relapse upon completing a treatment program and returning to their lives. This isn't because they don't want to stay sober and healthy, but because the triggers that caused the drinking are still present in their lives.

  • Environment - Rehab caregivers advise recovering addicts to look for a new place to live far from their current homes. This is because returning to the same neighborhood will present you with the same environmental triggers. It's easier to stay committed to sobriety when there isn't a liquor store or bar on every corner.
  • Peers - Recovering alcoholics are also advised to find new friends. One reason visitations are limited to immediate family members in rehab is so the recovering alcoholics will form healthy friendships with other recovering addicts. This creates a network of support and friendships with others who also place importance on sober living.
  • Mental Illness - Today, many treatment facilities offer psychological counseling in conjunction with addiction therapy. This is because they recognize the importance of treating underlying mental illnesses at the same time the addiction is treated. If the mental illness, or co-occurring illness, isn't addressed in rehab, the recovering alcoholic is far more likely to self-medicate once again.

If these causes and risk factors for alcohol addiction are familiar to you, it may be helpful to avoid drinking. Even casual consumption can lead to a devastating cycle of addiction. If you or someone close to you is already struggling with alcohol addiction, seek treatment to get clean and stay sober. While recovery won't be easy, it will help you to live a healthier and happier way of life.