Some people are social drinkers. Some people spend their youth drinking heavily or over-indulge during a stressful time. Then they decide to stop or reduce their drinking and can do so quite easily. Others find moderating their drinking almost impossible. The dangers of alcoholism are well-known, so why do some people become alcoholics while others — even those in the same family — can keep their consumption in check with relative ease? There are many factors at play and the causes of alcohol use are something addiction specialists have spent a long time investigating. Fortunately, help is available for those who are predisposed to alcoholism.
What is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism refers to a pattern of alcohol use that reaches an unhealthy level. Someone who has alcohol use disorder may be preoccupied with drinking, and unable to stop drinking even if they know that indulging in alcohol causes problems. Over time, someone who is an alcoholic may find themselves needing to drink more and more in order to feel the desired effects. If they stop drinking, they may experience physical withdrawal symptoms.
There’s no hard line that defines when “drinking a lot” becomes alcoholism. Just as the question of what causes alcoholism has several answers, the same could be said about the threshold of alcoholism. If a person’s drinking is adversely impacting their life, and they’re unable to control that drinking, that’s a strong indicator of alcoholism even if they aren’t drinking a significant amount of alcohol.
Why Do People Become Alcoholics?
The question of what causes alcohol use disorder is something that experts have debated for a long time. One of the most commonly cited alcoholism causes is family history. However, researchers have not yet isolated a gene that causes alcoholism, and a family history of alcohol use disorder isn’t a guarantee that someone is going to have issues with their own alcohol use.
So why do people become alcoholics? It appears there are many causes of alcohol use disorder, including:
Researchers have yet to pinpoint one specific gene that causes alcoholism. However, studies that looked at alcoholism in twins found that 45 to 65% of the factors that increase the risk of alcohol abuse are genetic. One theory is that the genes which impact how alcohol is metabolized may also have an impact on whether a person is at risk of alcoholism.
The same studies looking at alcoholism in twins found that where the biological parents have a history of alcoholism this is a greater risk factor than if the adoptive parents are the ones who are alcoholics. Put simply, nature is a greater factor than nurture. However, those who are raised in an environment where heavy alcohol consumption is normal may still be at an increased risk.
Of all the alcoholism reasons, a person’s environment is perhaps the most overlooked. People who spend a lot of time around others who are alcoholics, or where drinking is normalized, are at a greater risk of alcoholism. Several studies into the prevalence of alcoholism in certain social groups have identified a potential link between a person’s closest relationships and their risk of problematic drinking. However, there is currently a lack of deep research into broader social or ethnic environments.
Stress, depression and anxiety are closely linked to alcoholism. Some people drink as a form of “self-medication.” However, alcohol consumption can worsen anxiety and depression, creating a cycle where a person drinks to feel better, but is unwittingly making their situation worse. For some people in this category, there’s no physical dependence on alcohol, but they’re using it as a coping mechanism, making it a behavioral issue.
Those who grew up in a family with one or more alcoholics may be predisposed to alcoholism themselves. Other traumatic childhood events could have a similar effect. It’s unclear whether it’s the traumatic event that is the trigger, or a combination of genetics and other factors that have previously been discussed. However, there does appear to be a link between childhood trauma, depression and alcoholism. Mental health is a complex topic, and it’s important that people who are struggling with these issues seek help from a professional.
What Help Is Available for Someone Predisposed to Alcoholism?
There is help available for people who are predisposed to alcoholism, even if they aren’t currently engaged in problematic drinking. Those who already know they’re at risk of addiction or alcoholism could benefit from talking to a mental health professional or addiction expert such as the ones at Sunlight Recovery, to learn how to manage their risk factors.
Some people who struggle with alcoholism decide the best thing to do is avoid drinking entirely. Others are able to engage in moderate drinking but must be careful about monitoring their mental well-being, avoiding drinking if they have a low mood or are stressed.
When to Get Help for Alcoholism
If you are concerned about your drinking habits, it’s a good idea to seek help as soon as possible. Long-term alcohol use can be bad for your physical well-being; early action can reduce that damage.
Don’t simply try to stop drinking alone, especially if you have been drinking heavily or consistently for a long time. Some alcoholics experience physical withdrawal symptoms which can be unpleasant and even dangerous. Having support from a medical professional can make the withdrawal process easier.
You may think your alcohol consumption is only moderate, but if you’re drinking at inappropriate times or engaging in high-risk behaviors, such as driving while intoxicated, it’s worth seeking professional advice about your alcohol use. A counselor or addiction specialist can help you understand why you’re finding it hard to abstain from alcohol at certain times and help you take back control of your day-to-day habits.
A Better Life Is Ahead
If you’re concerned about your alcohol use or are struggling to find healthy coping mechanisms for day-to-day stresses, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Contact our counselors today, the Sunlight Recovery team is here to help you on the path to recovery.