When it comes to determining the reasons why alcoholics drink, there is no same answer for everyone.
For those who abuse alcohol or are addicted to it, the reasons for drinking may be unknown or could range from depression to genetics, or simply liking the feeling that alcohol gives them. Or, it could be a combination of all those reasons.
The following are some of the potential reasons why a person with alcohol abuse disorder may drink.
They may think it makes them feel less stressed
After a particularly long or stressful day, it’s not uncommon for people to mention going home and having a drink as a way to unwind. In fact, it is a very common sentiment that drinking is a way to take the mind off of mundane, everyday tasks and allow both the mind and body to relax. However, alcohol doesn’t really help the drinker cope with stress. It may actually make the stress worse and lead to heavier drinking. According to a study cited in U.S. News, “Alcohol can change the way the body manages stress…Meanwhile, stress can also reduce the intoxicating effects of alcohol, causing individuals to drink more to produce the same effect. As a result, turning to alcohol to alleviate anxiety or tension may actually make some people feel worse and prolong their stress, the findings indicate.”
Drinking may be a coping mechanism
For many who abuse or become addicted to alcohol, an underlying issue also exists, whether it be depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or another mental health disorder. When alcoholism exists alongside such an issue, it is referred to as a co-occurring disorder or a dual diagnosis. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “People with mental health disorders are more likely than people without mental health disorders to experience an alcohol or substance use disorder. Co-occurring disorders can be difficult to diagnose due to the complexity of symptoms, as both may vary in severity. In many cases, people receive treatment for one disorder while the other disorder remains untreated.” When a person receives a dual diagnosis, it is important that they address both disorders and take steps to treat each accordingly. If they avoid doing so, it is highly unlikely that both disorders will become manageable.
The desire to drink could be genetic
Medical professionals have been working for years to determine whether or not alcoholism is tightly tied to genetics, as alcoholism often runs in families. While this does not mean that any person in a certain family will become an alcoholic if they choose to drink, it does mean that people with those genes may be more prone to developing an addiction to alcohol and be less likely to be able to stop drinking on their own. Genes on their own do not determine whether or not a person may become an alcoholic. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, genes account for half the risk, while environmental factors also come into play.
Alcohol may make them feel like a better version of themselves
Some people who develop an addiction to alcohol have a very low self-image and self-esteem, and alcohol may allow them to feel as if they are improving aspects of themselves. Alcohol has a tendency to make people feel more confident and sure of their decision-making abilities, as well as make them feel more at ease in social situations. Often alcohol is present at social gatherings and is common ground for many people. Because of these seemingly positive benefits of drinking, it becomes easy for some people to begin relying on alcohol to improve their self-image.
Some people think alcohol can aid in fixing physical pain
For those who live with everyday physical pain, alcohol may seem like an easy medication. But in reality, the effects of alcohol simply overshadow pain rather alleviate it. Additionally, if a person has a physical condition that is being treated, combining alcohol with their medications may be incredibly dangerous. Turning to drinking may also make the physical pain worse in the future, once the drinking has to stop. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Withdrawal from chronic alcohol use often increases pain sensitivity which could motivate some people to continue drinking or even increase their drinking to reverse withdrawal-related increases in pain.”
Keep in mind that these are only five of the potential reasons that someone with alcohol abuse disorder may drink. There are additional reasons, and people may even drink for a combination of reasons. As always, every person and every situation are unique.
Written by: Beth Leipholtz
Co-occurring Disorders. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Accessed 15 November 2016. http://www.samhsa.gov/disorders/co-occurring.
Drinking Alcohol May Prolong, Not Relieve, Stress. U.S. News. 15 July 2011. Accessed 15 November 2016. http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2011/07/15/drinking-alcohol-may-prolong-not-relieve-stress
Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Accessed 15 November 2016. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders/genetics-alcohol-use-disorders
Using Alcohol to Relieve Your Pain: What Are the Risks? National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Accessed 15 November 2016. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/PainFactsheet/Pain_Alcohol.pdf