How Long Does It Take To Get Addicted to AlcoholAnna Ciulla
In 2018, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reported that more than 15,000,000 Americans dealt with alcohol use disorder (AUD). This disease has sweeping repercussions on both a societal and individual level, often leading to broken communities and families. A glance at the alarming rates of alcoholism over the past two decades reveals that not only are Americans drinking larger quantities, but they are also drinking more frequently and more irresponsibly.
In a day and age where more than a quarter of Americans engage in binge drinking at least once a month, the line separating social drinking and partying from full-blown alcoholism blurs. Even if you are just a casual drinker who parties on occasions, such habits can unintentionally devolve into alcohol addiction over time, especially when life begins throwing curve balls. So, whether you or someone you care for engages in frequent drinking, you should be aware of how long it takes for you to become addicted to alcohol as well as the common signs of addiction.
Below, our alcohol detox experts from Beach House Recovery will discuss the time frame of addiction, the causes of alcoholism, and the signs to look for.
How Long Does it Take to Get Addicted to Alcohol?
Alcohol affects everyone differently, especially when it comes to addiction. Alcoholism can sneak up on a person gradually, taking years for some, or it can seemingly happen overnight in just a few months of heavy drinking. Some alcoholics drink themselves into a stupor, and others manage to function and seem relatively sober despite their intoxication. As a result, there are no clear-cut answers to the question posed above since it depends on the person. That said, there are underlying causes and risk factors that could speed up the timeline or increase the likelihood of developing an addiction.
Causes of Alcoholism
AUD typically results from four key factors: biological, psychological, environmental, and social.
- Biological Factors – Countless studies have found that there is an integral relationship between alcoholism, genetics, and physiology. A 2008 study stated, “A long history of repetitive heavy use of alcohol exists across generations as well as the high prevalence of alcohol-related problems in Western societies.” Families pass down genetics, both the good and the bad ones. Unfortunately, addiction is one of those genetic intergenerational inheritances that tend to get passed down.
In the last decade, scientists have identified up to 51 genes in various chromosomal regions that indicate a link to alcoholism. For such people, these genes can affect the draw alcohol has on a person and the effects it causes. As a result, if you have family members who have struggled with alcoholism, then there is a substantial likelihood that you also have a predisposition towards alcohol addiction, which means you must be wary.
- Environmental Factors – A person’s environment can have a significant effect on their choices, opinions, and beliefs. If you work at a bar or are regularly surrounded by people who drink – especially those who drink heavily – you are more likely to see that as normal and participate in the activity; whereas, if you worked at a halfway home and were married to an ex-alcoholic, you’d likely drink far less often. Further, we as a society are constantly bombarded by advertisements, movies, music, and social media which glorify partying and help to normalize binge drinking.
- Psychological Factors – Your mental strength and acuity, combined with your ability to cope with difficult situations can have a noticeable impact on your behavior traits. Throughout the years, various studies have shown a comorbidity strongly linking mental health issues to alcoholism; people who deal with stress, depression, anxiety, suicidality, and other psychiatric disorders are exponentially more susceptible to falling into addiction.
People suffering from chronic mental conditions regularly self-medicate, using alcohol’s depressing effects in order to mask or deaden the symptoms of their psychological disorder. More often than not, such drinking practices only serve to exacerbate the underlying mental health issues. Rather than confronting their issues in a healthy manner, those problems are left to fester. Over time, habitual drinking can turn into alcoholism.
- Social Factors – Humans are social creatures that are extremely susceptible to peer pressure and we tend to adopt the views of those around us. Your family, religion, culture, and social groups can influence what you do or believe, and this includes drinking. If young people see their parents drinking heavily regularly, they start to see it as normal behavior.
Consider who you spend your free time with. When you are together, what are you doing? If the answer to that question predominantly involves alcohol, it is simple to see how that could morph into substance abuse. This is one of the reasons why people in recovery are encouraged to avoid people with whom their friendship was predominantly based on drinking. By removing these social factors, you decrease the temptation to drink.
Risk Factors for Developing AUD
There are quite a few risk factors that can increase both the speed and the likelihood of someone developing AUD. Although these factors do not guarantee that you will acquire a drinking issue, you should be aware of them. Their presence should be strong warning signals that you should avoid drinking heavily and frequently. Factors include:
- Start drinking early – This is true for just about any type of addiction or substance. The younger you are when you first start drinking heavily, the likelier it is that you will eventually develop an addiction. This is especially true for teenagers, whose bodies, brains, and impulse control and not fully matured. According to NIAAA, people who started drinking before the age of 15 were 4 times more likely to develop AUD than a person who waited until they were 21.
- History of Alcohol Addiction in the Family – People whose parents are alcoholics not only have been handed down their genetic traits, but they become accustomed to their family members drinking heavily, whether that be to celebrate, to deal with problems, or just to pass the time. Regardless, growing up in an environment where that is normal behavior often results in that behavior manifesting in your own life down the road.
- High Stress or Anxiety Level Occupations – If you have a career that is dangerous, physically demanding, or involves high levels of stress and/or long hours, you are more likely to develop a drinking problem. For example, miners, construction workers, armed forces, emergency rescue, food services, lawyers, and doctors all have a much higher link to AUD rates than other occupations due to their tough conditions. If you are in such a field, it is critical that you learn how to handle stress without alcohol.
- Regular Consumption Over A Long Period – Naturally, over time, your body builds habits and adapts to them. If your drinking becomes a pattern or regular habit, you exponentially increase your chances of developing an issue. Your drinking frequency, length, and total consumption all will significantly impact your tolerance levels. As tolerance builds, more alcohol is required to experience the desired effects. After a while, that tolerance turns into an alcohol dependence, which turns into addiction.
Alcoholism and the DSM-5
According to the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), alcohol use disorder is defined as, “A maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.” There are 11 overarching behaviors that are typically manifested by someone who is struggling with alcohol use disorder. These include:
- A person who regularly drinks more than they intended or drinks for longer than they planned to.
- A person who wants to reduce or stop their drinking altogether but was unable to get the habit under control.
- A person who spent a lot of time drinking, or spent time being sick or hungover from drinking. Often, this time takes away from other important activities, relationships, or obligations.
- A person who experiences an intense craving or urge to drink.
- A person whose drinking habits or the repercussions of their drinking interfered with their home, school, or work life.
- A person who chooses to continue to drink, knowing very well the problems it is causing in their personal life with family or friends.
- A person who sacrifices old hobbies, activities, or passions in favor of drinking.
- A person whose drinking puts them in dangerous or risky situations such as:
- Driving drunk
- Having unsafe sex
- Getting into fights
- Operating heavy machinery
- A person who continues to drink despite worsening physical or psychological problems.
- A person who has grown a tolerance to alcohol.
- A person who experiences alcohol withdrawal symptoms after a few hours of not drinking. Symptoms include:
- Delirium Tremens
- Grand Mal Seizures
- Heavy sweating
- High blood pressure
- Racing heart
- Shaky hands
Signs of Alcoholism
Signs you should watch out for can typically be categorized into one of two groups: social and physical signs of addiction.
- Dishonesty – Whether it is alcohol or another substance, addicts/heavy drinkers typically attempt to hide the extent of their habit, especially from those close to them.
- Failed relationships – Their words, actions, or continued decisions to drink despite the impact it has on others eventually results in broken relationships.
- Failing school or work – They have been fired from work or flunked out of school because of their drinking habits.
- Legal problems – They repeatedly have problems with the law arising from their drinking. A person with multiple DUIs exhibits a clear disdain for the safety of others and the seriousness of getting behind the wheel drunk.
- Money problems – They spend a small fortune on obtaining alcohol, or their alcohol consumption affects their ability to perform at work or hold down a job.
- Socially isolate – They push away friends and family in favor of drinking alone.
- Increased tolerance – They have to drink more alcohol to get drunk. Typically, this results in binge drinking in order to achieve the intended effects.
- Gained weight – Alcohol has a ton of calories. A 12-pack of beer is approximately 1800 calories, which is tantamount to a person’s daily caloric intake. On top of this, alcoholics often neglect to exercise regularly, especially when it comes to cardio.
- Inability to Stop – They are unable to simply have a drink and then know when to stop drinking. If they are drinking, that means they won’t stop until they are drunk. This is particularly notable in situations where it would be considered inappropriate to be getting drunk.
- Blacking out – They drink to the point where their brain switches off and they can no longer make new memories. This zombielike phase regularly results in fights, arguments, falls, or other embarrassing actions.
- Binge Drinking Everyday – If they do not drink every day, they drink most days. This does not refer to having a single beer with dinner, but rather, drinking heavily on a regular basis.
- Skin Issues – Alcohol consumption affects your body’s production of nutrients and vitamins. This typically results in a reddened nose and bloated face.
Long-Term Consequences of Addiction to Alcohol
If a habit is allowed to evolve into a full-blown addiction, there are severe potential ramifications to a person’s life. Probable consequences include:
- Alcohol poisoning
- Brain damage
- Broken relationships
- Failed career
- Family issues
- High blood pressure
- Increased on-the-job injuries
- Legal issues
- Liver disease
- Mouth Cancer
- Nerve damage
- Sexual dysfunction
- Heart problems
- Throat Cancer
- Unintentional injuries such as car crash, falls, burns, drowning
- Vitamin B1 deficiency
The way alcohol affects a person can vary for individuals, and the time it takes for it to sink its claws in can also fluctuate. Some can develop addiction in just a few months of heavy drinking, and others can develop a habit that gradually worsens over the years. Regardless, frequent binge drinking is a recipe for disaster and can have serious and lasting consequences on a person’s life.
If you or someone you love manifests the signs of addiction and is turning into an alcoholic, intervene as soon as possible to prevent irreversible damage from occurring. Since withdrawals from alcohol can be quite trying, doctors recommend that you undergo alcohol detox at an inpatient facility such as Beach House Recovery. There, with the help of professional staff, you can get clean.
- NIAAA – Alcohol Facts and Statistics. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
- NCBI – “Genetic Factors Influencing Alcohol Dependence.” May 2008. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2442454/
- NIAAA – “Comorbidity of Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders.” https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-2/81-89.htm
- NIAAA – “Underage Drinking.” https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AA67/AA67.htm
- DSM-5 – Alcohol Use Disorder. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/dsmfactsheet/dsmfact.pdf