Alcoholism Causes and Risk Factors

Many studies have looked into the causes of alcoholism and its associated risk factors. Family history and genetics have been identified as playing a significant role in the development of an alcohol problem. However, it’s widely accepted that a broad variety of factors influence alcohol abuse.

To a certain extent it doesn’t really matter what causes alcohol dependence once you’ve reached this point it’s more important to find the right treatment plan to help you get back on track. Nevertheless, having an understanding of the causes and risk factors allows you to identify whether you or a loved one are at risk of being an alcoholic and take preventive steps before that happens.

Genetic Factors

Studies have indicated that people can inherit roughly half of the risk associated with becoming alcohol-dependent. However, alcoholism cannot be traced to a single gene mutation like other diseases, such as sickle cell anaemia or cystic fibrosis.

The relationship between genetics and alcoholism is yet to be fully understood. Scientists are aware that genetics affect different aspects of alcoholism, such as the severity of hangovers, how quickly alcohol is broken down, and so on. Please note that genetics alone won’t determine whether you’ll be an alcoholic or not, as many factors interact to influence that.

Social Factors

Unlike most other drugs, drinking is widely accepted in social settings as a way to relax, celebrate, and bond with other people. In fact, social drinking is often glorified across different media.

As a young person, it can be particularly difficult to avoid drinking. It could be that you just started college or a new job and are likely to want to bond and make friends quickly. Social gatherings of such nature tend to involve drinking. In little time, you could be hitting the town regularly for a drink with your friends or colleagues.

Psychological Factors

One of the major reasons for developing a drinking problem is the existence of a psychological condition or mood disorder, such as anxiety or depression. You may not even be aware that you have a mental condition and begin to consume alcohol to help with the symptoms.

Unfortunately, alcohol only makes such conditions worse over time, because prolonged usage can actually cause you to develop mood disorders and symptoms such as mood swings, depression and violent behaviour. As the symptoms worsen, there’s a good chance you might want to drink more, but this only contributes to a vicious cycle.

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Personality Factors

Your personality can play a significant role in whether or not you develop a drinking problem. For example, you may be more likely to drink heavily on a regular basis if you’re predisposed to disregarding or pursuing risk, because you’re less likely to be inhibited. Similarly, at every social gathering, should you always want to be the centre of attention(‘the life and soul of the party’), there’s a good chance you’ll end up drinking quite a bit.

It’s important to bear in mind, however, that personality factors are as complex as genetic ones and don’t present a black and white picture.

Personal Choice Factors

When it comes to drinking behaviour, it’s not all left to circumstances over which you have little control. There is some degree of personal choice involved. For instance, you’ll never be dependent on alcohol if you never have a drink.

Also, you can decide to avoid being in social situations where drinking is involved or places where alcohol is easily accessible. While personal choice can go a long way, it’s less likely to be more influential than other factors in terms of you becoming an alcoholic.

Drinking History Factors

Your drinking history has a significant bearing on whether or not you develop a problematic habit. You’re at a greater risk of becoming an alcoholic if you’ve been drinking for a long time, but are less likely to develop dependence if you drank only for a short time.

The same applies to the amount of alcohol you have consumed; for example, the greater the quantity, the higher your chances of becoming an alcoholic. Similarly, the less you’ve drunk, the less likely it is for you to develop alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Familial Factors

Even beyond genetic factors, your family can – to a large extent – influence the likelihood of becoming an alcoholic. You’re at greater risk of developing alcoholism if you grew up in a family where heavy drinking was the norm, especially if it was encouraged.

Growing up in an environment where drinking is not only normalised, but glamorised, is bound to make you view it as expected, acceptable, and even desirable. You’re also likely to want to continue along that line when you have a family of your own.

Environmental Factors

Researchers have been looking into the possibilities of a connection between the risk of developing AUD and environmental factors. Simply by living in close proximity to establishments that sell alcohol, you may be more likely to engage in drinking and have a more positive outlook towards it.

The constant advertising and promotion of alcoholic drinks can also be an environmental factor for engaging in alcohol consumption. Income can also play a role, as you may be more inclined to drink to deal with the psychological burdens that come with having a low income and not being able to meet certain responsibilities.

Religious Factors

There is no single religion that can make you predisposed to becoming an alcoholic. Rather, you can have a drinking problem regardless what religion you practice. That said, religions that forbid or are strongly opposed to the consumption of alcohol make it less likely for you to drink.

If you’re a devout follower of a religion that forbids alcohol or has a strong influence on its availability – for example Islam, Orthodox Judaism, Evangelical Protestantism and Mormonism- then you are at a lower risk of developing a drinking problem.

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Social and Cultural Factors

Various cultural and social factors can affect the likelihood of developing a drinking problem to a great extent. Generally, you will be at a greater risk of developing AUD in places or situations where drinking is encouraged or acceptable. If you’re a member of certain sub-cultures, you may be more likely to abuse alcohol if it’s encouraged and considered a means of acceptance.

In cultural settings where drinking is regarded as a shameful act, you may be forced to hide your problematic habit, which could worsen over time, especially if you shy away from getting help in order to avoid the stigma of being branded an alcoholic.

Age Factors

Your age can put you at greater risk of developing an unhealthy drinking habit. If you are the parent of a teenager, be aware that alcohol consumption tends to start in the late teen years. However, it could begin at any age.

Drinking is likely to peak around your mid to late twenties and may slow down by the time you reach your early thirties. If in your early to mid-twenties, you’re at the greatest risk of suffering an alcohol use disorder. It’s also crucial to note that the younger you started drinking, the more likely you are to become an alcoholic later on.

Educational Factors

Your likelihood of developing a drinking problem increases the more highly educated you are. University students have been found to drink more frequently, especially due to social pressures and the dynamics of college life.

Career Factors

Your job can also influence the risk of becoming an alcoholic, as some professions are more likely to contribute to the development of alcoholism than others.

Such professions tend to be those that are dominated by younger adults, involve high risk, or are extremely stressful. One of cited career is the military, where psychological disorders such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can also be a factor.

The Risks Associated with Alcohol Use and Alcoholism

There are many risks associated with alcoholism and alcohol consumption. Many of those are related to physical (as well as mental) health. As an alcoholic, you are susceptible to developing diseases such as diabetes, cancer, infectious and neuropsychiatric diseases, including alcohol use disorders.

You’re also at risk of developing liver, pancreatic and cardiovascular diseases. Another risk associated with the use of alcohol is the likelihood of sustaining intentional or unintentional injuries. There is also the risk of seriously harming those around you, whether you’re close to them or they happen to be complete strangers.

Is Alcoholism Hereditary?

Heredity indicates mutations passed on in your genes which are transferred from one generation to the next. Conditions like depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism are examples of hereditary mental illnesses.

While you’re more likely to become an alcoholic if you have a parent who is one, hereditary factors alone cannot cause you to suffer an alcohol dependency problem. A combination of other external factors can actually exert the most influence on you developing alcoholism. Heredity may only prod you in that direction if other factors take you there.

Alcohol Use Disorder – Symptoms and Causes

Regardless of the causes, an alcohol use disorder should be treated as soon as possible. Some of the symptoms of AUD include: experiencing withdrawal symptoms like sweating and nausea when you don’t drink being so tolerant to alcohol that you don’t feel the effects with the same quantity as before; drinking in unsafe situations; and being unable to limit your consumption, amongst others.

By the time you develop AUD, alcohol may have created obvious problems for you and your loved ones. The disorder is caused by changes in the normal function of the parts of your brain associated with control, judgement and pleasure, due to excessive consumption of alcohol. This results in you beginning to crave the substance in order to reduce negative feelings and restore positive ones.

Disease and Injury Conditions Associated with Alcohol Use

Research has found alcohol to be a major contributory factor in many diseases and an underlying cause for over 60 health conditions. Some of the most common categories of disease that are either partly or completely caused by the consumption of alcohol include diabetes, cancer, and infectious diseases. Others include liver, pancreas, cardiovascular and neuropsychiatric diseases. According to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 2009 comparative risk assessment, the detrimental effects of alcohol consumption are even more severe than that of classic risk factors such as tobacco use, high cholesterol, hypertension, and sanitation issues.

Varying degrees of injury may also result from alcohol abuse, whether they are intentional or unintentional injuries. Being aware of the conditions associated with the alcohol consumption has been instrumental in the development of guidelines for low-risk drinking.

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Conditions for Which Alcohol Is a Necessary Cause

The WHO’s international classification of diseases lists more than 30 conditions which include the term ‘alcohol’ in their definition or name. This indicates the role of alcohol consumption as a necessary underlying cause for these conditions.

Among these conditions are alcohol use disorders (AUDs), which include alcohol abuse and dependence. While such conditions are not as fatal as those associated with other chronic diseases, they can be an important cause of disabling disease and injury, especially if you’re male or from certain countries. Other diseases in that category include alcohol-induced pancreatitis and alcoholic liver disease.

Conditions for Which Alcohol Is a Component Cause

Alcohol-specific conditions do not contribute as much to the global burden of disease as those for which alcohol is considered to be a component cause. Some of the diseases that are impacted by the consumption of alcohol include liver pancreas disease, cardiovascular disease, neuropsychiatric disease, diabetes, cancer, and intentional and unintentional injury.

Studies have shown that women are at higher risk of having these conditions than men. However, the differences are found to be smaller if the level of drinkingis lower.

Effects of Alcohol on People Other Than the Drinker

One of the greatest dangers of alcohol is how it can quickly contribute to reckless behaviour. Drink-driving is a major problem. Driving when drunk can lead to serious injuries – or even death – if an accident occurs.

There are many other ways a serious drinking habit can affect others. Family life is bound to suffer, as drinking often contributes to issues such as child neglect and family violence. You may forget to pick up the kids from school or end up ruining a family holiday. You may injure someone else in a drunken fight, a friend may lose work time trying to fill in for you, or you may be leaving a mess for someone else to clean up.

Alcohol Changes Brain Chemistry

Certain parts of the brain can become affected when you consume alcohol, especially in large quantities, over a long period of time. These parts of the brain include the areas associated with the ability to control your actions, the experience of pleasure, and your ability to make judgements.

Drinking alcohol in excessive amounts can change the normal function of those parts of the brain and cause you to crave the substance, as your system attempts to reduce the negative feelings and restore the positive ones you feel when you drink.

Alcoholism Statistics

These statistics associated with alcohol and alcoholism paint a picture of the situation in the UK:

  • In the UK, alcohol misuse is the fifth biggest risk factor for disability, ill-health, and death across all ages and the biggest factor among people aged 15 to 49 years old.
  • In 2015, there were 8,758 alcohol-related deaths.
  • Out of an estimated 595,131 dependent drinkers in England, only 108,696 are receiving treatment.
  • Between 2014 and 2015, there were about 1.1 million alcohol consumption related hospital admissions in the UK.
  • During the same period (2014 to 2015), the number of hospital admissions for conditions directly caused by alcohol was 339,000.
  • Injuries related to alcohol cost the NHS an estimated £3.5 billion every year.
  • In 2014, about 65% of all alcohol-related deaths in the UK were male.

Treating Alcoholism

Treatment for alcoholism frequently involves undergoing a detoxification process in a medical facility or hospital. The process of detox means that you will have to stop consuming alcohol while you allow your body to expel all the toxins that have accumulated.

During the detox process, you may be given medication to help reduce your cravings. You could also be given sedatives to dull your senses and help calm you, as well as vitamins to help promote normal body function. A crucial part of treatment is therapy and counselling, which you will receive from experienced and qualified healthcare professionals. Therapy typically follows after detox and may continue on an inpatient or outpatient basis.

When to See a Doctor

You should have a chat with your doctor if your family has shown concern about your drinking habits, if you believe you drink too much sometimes, or if you can tell that your drinking is causing problems across different areas of your life.

It’s possible that you are in denial and if that is the case, you may not recognise your own drinking problem. You may not see that many of the issues you’re facing are linked to your alcohol consumption. To discover whether your drinking is problematic and how much of an issue it is, talk to your friends, co-workers, and family members and listen to what they have to say.

Ways to Reduce the Burden of Harmful AlcoholConsumption

Governments can effectively reduce the socioeconomic, safety, and health problems associated with alcohol. WHO suggests various strategies that can be used to achieve this, including the regulation of the marketing of alcohol, especially to young people.

The availability of alcohol can also be regulated and restricted, appropriate drink-driving policies can be enacted, and demand can be reduced by introducing effective pricing and taxation mechanisms. Other strategies include implementing interventions programmes for harmful drinking, making treatment for AUD affordable and accessible, and raising awareness of the public health issues resulting from the abuse of alcohol.


FAQs

What are the Effects of Alcohol?

Alcohol is a drug that is classified as a depressant, which means that it results in the slowing down of vital functions. That’s why it produces effects such as an inability to react quickly, disturbed perceptions, unsteady movement, and slurred speech.Alcohol affects the mind by distorting your judgment and reducing your ability to think rationally. The type of effect it has is determined by the amount consumed. In moderate quantities, alcohol can produce stimulant effects, but if you take more than you can handle, you can begin to lose control and coordination. An overdose can cause effects such as unconsciousness or inability to feel pain.

What Is Binge Drinking?

The practice of binge drinking involves consuming alcohol in large quantities in only one session. For a male, this could be as much as five drinks or more. For a female, it could be as much as four drinks or more.Young people are more likely to drink in a binge fashion, especially in social settings.

Is Alcoholism Hereditary?

Alcoholism cannot be traced to a single gene like other hereditary mental illnesses, such as depression and autism. Rather, a number of different genes can affect your predisposition to developing a drinking disorder during your lifetime.Although you are twice as likely to become an alcoholic if you have an alcoholic parent, hereditary factors alone cannot doom you to the fate of developing alcohol dependency. Rather, it is various underlying factors combined with hereditary factors that can push you in that direction. Even if you are genetically predisposed to alcoholism, you may never become an alcoholic.

Do I Misuse Alcohol?

Misusing alcohol means that you drink too much; that is, above the recommended lower risk limits of alcohol consumption. You are probably misusing alcohol if you regularly drink over 14 units a week, as the NHS recommends consuming no more than this amount.You could also be misusing alcohol by drinking too much in one sitting – for instance, if you engage in binge drinking. Also, if you feel bad about your drinking habit, have been criticised by other people, or feel like you need a drink to steady your nerves, then you could be misusing alcohol. It’s best to avoid misusing alcohol in order to keep your risk of alcohol-related harm as low as possible.

What’s the Outlook for a Person with Alcohol Use Disorder?

It is not easy to recover from alcohol use disorder and your outlook will depend on how able you are to stop yourself from drinking. You’re going to need a solid support system in order to make recovery smoother. Any alcohol-related health complications will also play a part in determining your outlook. Among the health complications associated with AUD are liver damage, high blood pressure, depression, dementia, and bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, amongst other serious conditions.

How is it Treated?

Treatment for alcohol use disorder typically begins with detoxification, which is meant to cleanse the body of alcohol. This stage is usually followed by rehabilitation,during which you’ll learn to address any triggers that cause you to drink and coping skills to help you abstain.Throughout your time in treatment, you may receive medications for any health issues associated with AUD and medications to help control your addiction. Upon completing the course of your treatment, you may be referred to a 12-step programme like Alcoholics Anonymous.

How can you Prevent Alcohol Use Disorder?

In order to prevent an alcohol use disorder from developing, you need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of problematic drinking, as well as the risk factors of alcoholism

so you can prevent any further damage. If you notice your friend or loved one has frequent mood changes, is struggling with work or school, constantly has bloodshot eyes, or loses interest in hobbies, you should investigate just how much they are drinking. Try to intervene directly by talking openly about their alcohol problem and help them avoid drinking in social situations and other scenarios. If you can’t determine whether you yourself have an alcohol problem, ask your friends and family what they think and take action immediately if there is indeed some concern.

What is the Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism?

The difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism is a matter of degree. You may be abusing alcohol, but not be dependent on it, in which case you would be engaged in alcohol abuse. If you are an abuser, you may exhibit signs such as neglecting your responsibilities in favour of finding an opportunity to drink.If you’re an alcoholic, then you will be so dependent on alcohol that you’ll suffer withdrawal symptoms if you don’t drink, and will end up drinking even more to avoid symptoms such as insomnia, sweating, anxiety, irritability and depression. You will be unable to stop yourself from drinking too often and consuming too much, even if you try to.

What are the Symptoms of Alcoholism?

Some of the symptoms to look out for include drinking even when it’s unsafe to do so, losing interest in hobbies or other activities, persisting in consuming alcohol regardless of the problems it’s causing, not meeting your responsibilities, feeling strong cravings to drink, spending too much time drinking, and being unable to limit drinking even when you want to.Another symptom is the occurrence of withdrawal symptoms, such as shaking and nausea when you don’t drink. There is also the development of tolerance, whereby you experience a reduced effect from the same amount you would normally consume.

What are the Causes of Alcoholism?

The causes of alcoholism include environmental, social, genetic, and psychological factors. They can all contribute to your drinking habit, as well as how drinking affects your behaviour and body.

Drinking excessively over an extended period of time can alter the chemistry of your brain. By affecting the areas of the brain that are associated with your ability to control your actions, make judgements, and experience pleasure, abuse can eventually lead to alcoholism, by which time you won’t be able to stop drinking.

Who are the Groups of People More Likely to SufferAlcoholism?

People most likely to develop alcoholism are those who are most exposed to the risk factors. That would include, most obviously, people who drink too much for an extended period of time. Another group who are likely to become alcoholics are people who started drinking at an early age, especially if they engaged in binge drinking.People with a family history of alcoholism are also at risk of developing the condition, as well as persons who have mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or anxiety.

What can I do to Help an Alcoholic?

If your friend, colleague, or family member is an alcoholic, you have to understand that they need treatment above all else. However, they may be unable or unwilling to recognise they have a problem. You can help them see that their drinking has become a problem by letting them know about how it’s affecting their behaviour and their relationships with those closest to them.Learn as much as you can about alcoholism and the risks involved for the alcoholic, as well as other people around them. By doing so, you can approach your alcoholic friend or loved one with sufficient information to persuade them to seek professional help.

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