Being an alcoholic or having an alcohol use disorder (AUD) involves a problematic level of drinking that begins to affect a person’s social, emotional and physical health. Though there is no one cause, many issues contribute to alcoholism. The disease of addiction targets people regardless of their sex, gender, race, religion or socioeconomic status, but learning about the condition can help shed light on the problem and possible solutions.
According to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 14.1 million adults and 414,000 adolescents in the United States had an alcohol use disorder in 2019. People with the condition may not fully understand AUD and how it compares to being an alcoholic, so seeking out a professional opinion and treatment options is always recommended to limit the risks.
People who fall into alcoholism may not realize why alcohol is so addictive. There is no one cause but rather a combination of precursors that lead to an alcohol addiction.
Drinking creates a chemical “high” inside the brain and body, which most people begin to crave. The feelings associated with drinking can compel you to drink more and more often, not to mention the physiological exchanges that begin to happen inside the brain’s reward center when consuming alcohol.
Alcoholism is a complex process involving physical and psychological changes that occur with consistent alcohol use. As people begin to drink more frequently, alcohol produces desired feelings in the body and the brain through the release of specific brain chemicals. With consistent drinking, the chemical output decreases, so a person drinks more to achieve the same results, a condition called tolerance.
Addiction is a psychological process where a person’s thoughts become consumed by alcohol and they behave in ways aimed at getting and using more. Physical dependence is separate but related to the body making it uncomfortable to be without alcohol in the system, which can cause people to drink just to avoid feeling these withdrawal symptoms.
In a study by The Recovery Village polling over two thousand respondents, coping with mental health symptoms, coping with stress and recreation ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd as the biggest reasons people drink alcohol.
According to the same survey:
Problem drinking can be attributed to multiple social, psychological and biological factors.
Drinking usually starts out as a social activity for most; however, it moves into a bad habit relatively quickly depending on how strong the influence of friends, family and society are on a person. Social and environmental influences increase the likelihood of becoming an alcoholic. Factors such as the availability of alcohol, peer pressure, social class and any kind of abuse play a role in the development of alcohol dependence.
Alcohol abuse can be triggered by psychological behaviors such as approval seeking, self-worth issues or impulsiveness. Often people drink as a coping strategy to manage emotions or “self-medicate.” People who suffer from mental health problems such as anxiety or depression are much more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder as well.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), conditions linked to AUD include:
As much as 60% of the risk for AUD comes from genetic factors, according to the APA. If you grow up with a parent who is an alcoholic, this factor alone increases your chances of becoming one by four times.
Women have lower rates of AUD compared to men, but due to differences in body type, they frequently have higher blood alcohol levels than men. They may also experience increased physical consequences from use, like organ damage.
In addition to the above, there are various risk factors for alcohol use disorders that further increase the incidence of drinking. Alone, these factors are harmful, but when they occur simultaneously, they can be quite damaging.
The earlier a person begins experimenting with alcohol, the higher the risk for AUDs. The risk increases when the drinking occurs as intense binges.
Like drinking early, drinking often is linked to alcohol use disorders. Due to the physiological influence of alcohol in the brain, people who drink alcohol regularly will disrupt their normal brain functioning, resulting in a higher risk of AUD.
People who have experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse, as well as other forms of trauma, will note higher risks of alcoholism. Often, drinking begins as a negative coping skill to decrease the discomfort linked to the negative experience.
When people live, work or socialize with drinkers, they are more likely to drink themselves. Some cultures may normalize or even celebrate drinking, which leads to increased levels of alcohol consumption and increased numbers of alcohol use disorders.
Understanding what makes someone addicted to alcohol can be the first step in helping a person seek treatment. Depending on how bad their alcohol abuse has been or if medically-assisted alcohol detox will be needed for withdrawal symptoms, entering into a treatment center may be a necessary option. Professional medical staff can assist in the difficult process of withdrawal, making the transition into sobriety less daunting.
Alcohol abuse treatment programs teach people how to move into an alcohol-free lifestyle while teaching them healthy coping strategies. They can simultaneously help treat any co-occurring mental health issues.
Contact The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake if you have questions about treatment or if you’re ready to get on the path to recovery and end your addiction to alcohol.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.