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What Are The Causes Of Alcoholism?

Posted on March 15, 2022

What Are The Causes Of Alcoholism?

Commonly referred to as alcohol use disorder, alcoholism is a physical and/or psychological addiction to alcohol.

Individuals with an alcohol use disorder experience strong cravings and desires to drink alcohol, and will often experience withdrawal symptoms such as agitation and shaking if they are unable to consume this substance.

They find it difficult to know when or how to stop drinking and the majority of their time is often spent thinking about and consuming alcohol. [1]

Alcoholism can have a devastating impact on a person’s physical, mental and emotional health as well as all aspects of their life.

It is important that anyone struggling with an alcohol use disorder receives professional treatment including complete detoxification and ongoing counselling in order to increase the chances of long-term recovery.

What are the most common causes of alcoholism?

There are many factors that are still unknown regarding alcoholism, including the exact cause.

Studies have shown that repeated exposure to heavy and frequent amounts of alcohol can cause physical changes in the brain and body [2], increasing the amount of serotonin released when more of this substance is consumed and causing intense withdrawal symptoms if the alcohol is removed.

It is thought that a combination of multiple factors may contribute to the development of alcoholism, including family genetics and experiences of past trauma.

These causes do not necessarily guarantee that an individual will develop an alcohol use disorder, but they are thought to increase the chances.

Some of the most common causes of alcoholism include:

1. Early exposure

While alcoholism can develop at any age, the chances of experiencing an alcohol use disorder are higher in people who begin drinking large amounts of alcohol from an early age.

This is particularly true if alcohol is consumed regularly during the early teenage years, as a physical dependence can develop during this time which may only worsen as the individual ages.

This potential cause of alcoholism is especially worrying due to the acceptance of binge drinking and alcohol use in younger people, such as throughout high school and university.

While many people feel invincible in their teens and early twenties, the reality is that their alcohol use is likely to catch up with them as they age if they continue the same habits into their thirties and forties.

2. Mental health disorders

Many people who suffer from a mental illness such as anxiety, depression or schizophrenia may not be aware that they are dealing with a disorder and therefore will not take the steps to seek the help and support that they require.

In other cases, they may be too ashamed to seek help or simply feel that they are being let down by the organisations and people who should be there to lend a helping hand.

As a result, they may begin drinking alcohol as a way to manage the symptoms of their mental health disorder.

Over time this can lead to increased tolerance and the individual may need to drink larger amounts of alcohol on a more frequent basis in order to experience the same effects, increasing the chances of developing an alcohol use disorder.

3. Stressful life circumstances

Sometimes life can throw you a curveball and create unexpected stress and chaos, such as losing your job or being diagnosed with a serious illness.

In these situations, it can be tempting to turn to alcohol for a temporary solution to life’s problems, but becoming dependent on this substance can potentially result in a serious alcohol use disorder.

As well as unexpected life circumstances, simply being in a stressful environment on a regular basis can also be the cause of alcoholism.

If your workplace is extremely demanding and high-pressure, you may find that you rely on alcohol to cope with the constant stress and long hours.

4. Self-medication

For some people, numbing their stresses and pain with alcohol is a quicker and easier method than directly addressing the root cause of the problem.

Professional counselling involves speaking in-depth about uncomfortable events and emotions which may be an overwhelming and intimidating prospect for people who struggle to open up, while simply getting an initial appointment with a therapist can often involve long waiting lists or expensive session fees.

However, masking these difficult emotions with alcohol can increase the chances of developing alcoholism and will never be a solution to the primary issue.

While it may appear to make you feel better in the moment, the long-term problems that alcohol can cause make it a dangerous and ineffective solution.

5. Genetics

It has been proven that a number of specific genes can be passed through generations of family members, increasing the chances of developing an alcohol use disorder.

If someone in your immediate family has experienced alcoholism, your chances of becoming addicted to this substance are increased when compared to an individual with no rates of alcoholism within their close family.

Additionally, drinking large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis can become normalised within households.

If you witness your parents or older siblings frequently consuming alcohol to the point of becoming intoxicated, you are statistically more likely to repeat this behaviour in your own life and potentially fall into the trap of alcoholism.

6. Past trauma

No matter how long ago it happened, experiencing a traumatic event or series of events can increase the chances of developing alcoholism.

This can occur if an individual is exposed to physical or sexual abuse, witnesses a serious accident or act of terrorism goes through an extremely stressful life event or even experiences the event second-hand through the television or a close connection with an affected person.

Trauma can invoke a number of distressing and uncomfortable physical and mental symptoms and the individual may re-live the event frequently due to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If left untreated, PTSD and other symptoms of trauma have been proven to correlate with higher rates of alcoholism as the sufferer attempts to block out the unwanted memories with the help of alcohol.

What are the most common risk factors for developing alcoholism?

Due to the above causes, there are a number of potential risk factors that can be identified within specific individuals.

These risk factors may give an indication of how likely someone is to develop alcoholism, although it does not guarantee that they will struggle with an alcohol use disorder during their lifetime.

Common risk factors for developing alcoholism

  • Regularly exceeding the recommended weekly alcohol intake
  • Being exposed to heavy and frequent alcohol use from an early age
  • Struggling with low self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth
  • Having a parent or other close family member with alcoholism
  • Living with a diagnosed, misdiagnosed or undiagnosed mental health disorder
  • Being exposed to peer pressure as a young person
  • Working or living in a stressful environment
  • Experiencing a stressful one-off event or series of events

It’s important to note that the above factors do not have to be present in order for an individual to be diagnosed with alcoholism, they are merely used as an indication of the likelihood of developing an alcohol use disorder.

What are the recommended alcohol limits?

The NHS recommends that both men and women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol during a single week, and it is strongly advised that these units are spread out over multiple days as opposed to being consumed in one day. [3]

Many people believe that one unit is the equivalent of one alcoholic drink, when in fact different types of alcohol contain varying numbers of units within a single glass depending on the size of the drink and the strength of the alcohol. A

pint of beer may contain as many as three units, while a glass of red wine may contain just over two units.

One unit is the equivalent of 10ml of pure alcohol, the amount that most adults are able to successfully process through their bodies within one hour.

If you exceed this amount, the liver may struggle to process the alcohol and you can become dangerously intoxicated and overtime suffer from a number of alcohol-related health conditions if this behaviour is regularly performed.

Am I struggling with alcoholism?

It is possible to have developed an alcohol use disorder without being aware of the slow decline, due to alcohol’s addictive properties and the general acceptance of this substance within our society.

There are a number of signs that may indicate an unhealthy and potentially damaging relationship with alcohol, with some of the most common listed below.

Common signs that you may be struggling with alcoholism

  • I find myself hiding empty bottles and being dishonest when asked how much alcohol I drink
  • I have built up a tolerance to alcohol and now need to drink larger amounts on a more frequent basis
  • My partner, friends, family and/or colleagues have expressed concern about my drinking levels
  • I have experienced legal troubles due to my alcohol use, such as driving under the influence
  • I spend a large percentage of my monthly salary on alcohol, and/or borrow money to fund my alcohol use
  • I have attempted to stop drinking alcohol but have been unable to
  • I don’t like who I become when I’m drinking – I become angry, irritable and/or violent
  • I experience withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, nausea and anxiety when I am unable to drink alcohol
  • I feel guilty about my behaviour when I drink, as well as the quantity and frequency of consumption
  • I spend a large amount of time thinking about, purchasing and drinking alcohol
  • I am unable to perform at my best at work, school or other activities due to my alcohol use
  • I have lost interest in my hobbies, preferring to drink alcohol instead
  • If I am invited to a social event at which I will not be able to drink alcohol, I will choose not to attend
  • I have surrounded myself with other people who also drink large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis

If you relate to some of the above factors, your relationship with alcohol may have become unhealthy and it is recommended that you seek professional treatment.

What are the long-term effects of alcoholism?

Alcohol affects every major organ in the body, and consuming high quantities of this substance on a regular basis can eventually lead to major physical and mental problems. [4]

As well as health issues, alcohol use disorder can also result in a number of financial, social and legal problems that can follow an individual throughout their life for years to come.

Common long-term effects of alcoholism

  • Financial troubles including legal fees and credit card debt
  • Loss of employment, difficulty finding employment
  • Legal issues including driving under the influence of alcohol-related violence
  • Conflict with family and friends
  • Increased chances of developing a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety
  • Higher risk of suicide
  • Liver problems such as cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis
  • Heart problems including arrhythmias and increased risk of stroke
  • Kidney disease and kidney failure
  • Damage to the brain, including memory loss and concentration problems
  • Development of stomach cancer and other digestive problems

How can I prevent alcoholism?

Preventing the onset of alcohol use disorder begins by limiting your own alcohol intake, regardless of what other people are doing around you.

Drinking alcohol to the point of intoxication has become accepted and normalised in many cultures around the world, but it is possible to enjoy this substance in moderation by sticking to the recommended limits as prescribed by the NHS.

If you believe that your relationship with alcohol has become unhealthy or have any concerns about your alcohol use, speak to your doctor who will be able to advise you on the next steps to take.

You can also contact our friendly and non-judgemental team here at Rehab Recovery – a simple phone call may be all it takes to start your journey towards recovery and a healthy relationship with alcohol.







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