What Causes AlcoholismAnna Ciulla
The road to becoming an alcoholic knows no length; it can be short, long, or it can throw you around a turn before you have the time to blink. AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder) is estimated to affect 16 million people in the United States. In reality, most people know or know of someone that’s currently suffering from alcoholism.
You’ve probably heard “the family has a history of alcoholism,” but what exactly does that mean? And, can alcoholism form even without a genetic predisposition? Below, our alcohol detox experts will discuss the full range of causes for alcoholism.
What Causes Alcoholism?
A single ubiquitous cause to alcoholism does not exist. It’s feasible that any one person, at any point in their life, can develop AUD. This is a matter of conditioning, being that when alcohol interacts with the brain for an extended period of time, it:
- Builds tolerance;
- Rewires neural pathways and brain structure;
- Creates physical dependency;
- and eventually addiction (alcoholism).
That’s why, in inpatient alcohol treatment programs, clinicians want to discover the root reason as to why someone began drinking in the first place, then why the drinking spiraled out of control. Despite, there are certain factors that contribute to a person’s propensity for developing AUD. These factors can be physiological, biological, environmental, and social.
A study done by Oxford Academic, led by Kari Poikolainen, where over 500 (men and women) participants were interviewed to understand the risk factors involved with alcohol dependence, states:
“Among both men and women, significant positive associations were found between alcohol dependence and parental alcohol problems, with trait anxiety, high antisocial behavior, high impulsivity, and high monotony avoidance.”
In which case, let’s dive deeper.
“It’s in your blood” the mother says to her son, “just like your father and his father before him.” While some critics might’ve, at one point, stated that there is no one gene manipulation that causes alcoholism, today we know this to be false. If there is a history of AUD in a family, then it’s likely that newer generations will, if drinking irresponsibly, develop the condition.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that someone is born an alcoholic. They must first have a reason to drink, then drink without moderation to become addicted to alcohol. But a genetic predisposition is a major factor of the root cause. However, there’s another layer to this.
The old adage “like father, like son,” sounds a siren when it comes to alcoholism. The reason being exposure. As children, our brains are developing rapidly, constantly consuming empirical data from our environments to understand life. If someone ages in a home of smokers, they may not have a negative sentiment towards smoking, despite knowing its harmful nature.
The same goes for drinking. In a study done in Wales that observed children with an alcoholic parent(s), and the inverse, it was found that the child was:
- 2 to 3 times likelier of developing AUD if their parents are alcoholics
Pair the exposure to alcohol with genetic predisposition and it’s a recipe for alcoholism. Unless the child reacts to the contrary, disgusted at their parent’s behavior and attributing a negative sentiment to drinking as a whole (which does happen in some cases), then excess drinking will be normalized.
An Underlying Mental Health Disorder
One of the most tragic stigmatizations of an AUD sufferer is the depressed, paranoid, or schizophrenic alcoholic shouting and stammering in the alley. Unfortunately, there is an undeniable link between mental illness and alcoholism. When these two conditions are present within an individual, it’s known as a co-occurring disorder. Inversely, alcoholism can also cause the very symptoms brought about by certain mental illnesses, which is why the diagnosis can occur after they are known to have AUD.
The cycle is vicious. Someone struggling with a mental illness will turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism, which only exacerbates their problem. Then, someone without a mental illness will use alcohol to the point that they either:
- Develop symptoms that mimic psychiatric disorders
- Develop psychiatric disorders that persist after abstinence
A co-occurring disorder, or a substance abuse condition coupled with a mental illness, is quite common when it comes to AUD. If mental illness runs in the family, this too can be a cause for alcoholism. This cause of alcoholism is one of the focal points in today’s alcohol addiction treatment, addressing both disorders in isolation to give them the necessary attention. For individuals suffering from co-occurring disorders, they will need to seek treatment from a professional dual diagnosis center that is experienced in handling addiction and mental illness.
One of the first studies published in Science Daily which sought to identify the link between social factors and AUD, states: “Social factors have consistently been implicated as a cause of vulnerability to alcohol use and abuse. The reverse is also true, in that individuals who engage in excessive drinking may alter their social context. New research on drinking among older adults has found that older adults who have more money, engage in more social activities, and whose friends approve more of drinking are more likely to engage in excessive or high-risk drinking.”
The truth is that social factors heavily influence the chances of alcoholism. If it’s a low-income environment in a minority community, or a highly affluent family that loves to participate in outings, the social environment will enforce or discourage drinking. This can be a strong case for the development of alcoholism, being that peer pressure, societal acceptance, and the accessibility to alcohol fuel the problem.
As with any addictive substance, the earlier it is introduced, the higher the likelihood that someone will become dependent and eventually addicted. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism released a survey that stated: “data from a survey of 43,000 U.S. adults heighten concerns that early alcohol use, independent of other risk factors, may contribute to the risk of developing future alcohol problems.”
The earlier someone drinks, the higher the chance they will eventually develop an addiction. This is also due in part that teenagers lack the maturity and decision-making capabilities to drink responsibly. Now, that’s not to say that every teenager drinks to excess or makes poor decisions while doing so, just that without experience, the proper guidance, and nearly zero tolerance, binge and heavy drinking can become frequent. Once this behavior has started, it can be difficult for an adolescent to learn how to stop binge drinking and consume alcohol responsibly.
Our brains, during this developmental phase, are quite malleable. Meaning if a teenager that’s in a poor social environment with a lack of parental supervision decides to drink, they may develop a tolerance quicker than is healthy. This can eventually pave the way for AUD.
Trauma | Stress
Alcohol is often used as a coping mechanism. It’s a phenomenon found in the heart of the stigmatized veteran, who comes home suffering from PTSD and takes to the bottle to settle his or her mind. In a less dramatized example, someone dealing with the stress of everyday life might choose to unwind at the end of their night with a glass of wine.
This behavior of self-medicating, no matter the amount of alcohol consumed, is dangerous. The reason being that alcohol becomes a crutch, a necessity as opposed to an accessory, one needed to maintain happiness and control. Plenty of studies have been done that link the bridge between trauma (typically from past events) and alcoholism—then stress and alcoholism.
A Lack of strong Familial Relationships
From parental supervision to general relationships within the family, a broken home is indeed a cause of AUD. A study showcased the nature of being raised in a broken home, concluding that:
“The pattern of results reinforced and extended earlier findings. Our analyses indicated that children from intact families used significantly fewer inhalants, marijuana, and amphetamines than children from single-parent families. As hypothesized (H1), older children reported greater lifetime marijuana and amphetamine use.”
The reality is that children growing in homes that lack structure are prone to experiencing a host of problems, many of them unrelated to substance use. However, depending on the environment, if alcohol is accessible and there is no one around to govern their behavior, they will be more likely to start drinking at a younger age. This further increases their risk of developing AUD.
A Mixed Bag of Reasons
It is entirely possible that, of all the causes listed above, AUD can develop due to a mix of reasons. This could be two, three, four, or more. The fact is that when an individual is prompted to drink, then continues to drink heavily, AUD can form. The causes are typically:
- Found in the reason of why they started;
- And found in the reason they continued.
For instance, someone could’ve started drinking because of a lack of family structure, or an unhealthy environment, but continued drinking because of a genetic predisposition. This is what makes identifying a single cause of alcoholism difficult. There is and will always be a host of factors that can contribute to the problem.
Is There A Cure For AUD?
If there was a cure for AUD, it would help the lives of 16 million people in America alone. Unfortunately, there is a way to stop alcoholism and make a positive change but calling it a cure would be inaccurate; an alcoholic that relapses can trigger their AUD once more.
The treatment we speak of is rehab. Today, the titanic push the healthcare system has made towards developing tools to fight addiction is showing great progress. Through science, research, and alternative strategies, clinicians, doctors, and addiction specialists understand the nature of substance abuse better than ever before.
Due in part to the opioid epidemic, the healthcare industry has never been more dexterous at treating addiction, then ensuring it doesn’t return afterward.
A rehabilitation program will take the form of either inpatient or outpatient treatment. In inpatient, the client will live in a facility anywhere from 30-90 days. In outpatient, the client will be able to live from home, fulfill their daily obligations, and will be required to check in to the facility multiple days of the week.
Both types of treatment programs will recommend a medically-assisted detox, being that alcohol withdrawal can cause health complications.
Additionally, when choosing a reputable clinic like Beach House Recovery, you are guaranteed to have access to:
- Medication Management: licensed medical professionals will, if necessary, use medication to help mitigate withdrawal symptoms and ease the initial steps towards recovery. If a co-occurring disorder is present, then the medication-assisted treatment will be used to treat symptoms of an underlying mental illness (further easing the process)
- Therapy: from Trauma-Informed Therapy, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), to Motivational Interviewing and Relapse Prevention, the patient will have dialogues with different professionals. The therapy provided will work to:
- Identify the root cause of the addiction
- Develop tools to handle cravings, avoid triggers, and remain sober after treatment
- Uncover any underlying disorder that might have had a symbiotic relationship with AUD
- A Wellness Program: the program will help clients explore the motivators they can hold to once treatment ends, further encouraging them to live a sober and happier life. Access and recommendations to life coaches are an aspect as well, as this facet of rehab works to ensure the success of the patient’s future.
- Alumni Services: the patient will be able to connect with former addicts who utilized treatment to reclaim their lives, further expanding their network and support group. These mentors within the rehab alumni services will be able to provide valuable insight into what life is going to be like afterward, ways to overcome challenges and keep a steady ear to listen to the patient’s problems.
An Important Dialogue
Discussing the causes of alcoholism and how to treat it is important for everyone. This knowledge can help individuals explore the fabric of their own lives, identifying events or circumstances that might have led them to drink. It can also help families understand or prevent a loved one’s alcoholism.
The sad reality is that, with our current data, it’s clear the alcoholism isn’t partial. It doesn’t care about your race, age, tax bracket, or any of your values and characteristics—it strikes at will and with alarming speed. Now that you know the causes of alcoholism, it can lead you to explore your own journey or help someone else’s. Despite, if you or someone you love is dealing with AUD, it’s important to take the first step forward and reach out to a clinic. The above might be reasons for alcoholism, but what they’ve caused does not need to be permanent. If you’re ready to change your life for the better, call our Florida rehab center today.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Use Disorder.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Howard J. Edenberg, Ph.D. The Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism: An Update. June, 2013.
- Alcohol Research & Health. Ramesh Shivani, M.D., R. Jeffery Goldsmith, M.D., and Robert M. Anthenelli, M.D. Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders. 2002;26(2): 90-98
- Science Daily. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. January 27, 2010.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Early Drinking Linked to Higher Lifetime Alcoholism Risk. July, 2006.
- US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Vanessa Hemovich and William D. Crano. Family Structure and Adolescent Drug Use: An Exploration of Single-Parent Families. April, 2011.