Causes of Alcohol Abuse and Addiction: Forewarned is Forearmed

Last Updated: August 8, 2019

alcoholic man drinking and causes of alcoholism caption

Alcoholism is a deadly disease with millions of people struggling with addiction all around the world. There are many possible causes of alcoholism and excessive drinking, although, there will likely be only a couple of main reasons for alcohol dependence. It is always easier to prevent a problem than to deal with consequences. Read on to figure out the major causes of alcoholism.

Genetic Nature of Alcoholism

A person’s genes are their biological building blocks which provide a person with their appearance, health, and even personality. Alcohol use disorder usually runs in the family which made some researchers believe that genes can be one of the major causes of developing alcohol addiction.

Recent studies are showing more and more that genes have an impact on how an individual thinks and acts, and this includes addiction and alcoholism. Roughly speaking, if someone had an alcoholism gene, then their risk for developing an addiction would go up tremendously. However, genes cannot and must not be considered to be an excuse for excessive drinking. They provide about 50% of the reason. The other half of the reasons for alcoholism come from the person, their history, and their psychology.

Being genetically predisposed to alcohol addiction also does not mean that the genes make alcoholism untreatable. Alcoholism treatment works for everyone, no matter the genetics or any other causes.

Family History of Drinking

An individual’s family history can tell a lot about why they are the way they are. For example, if a person were raised in a family that read daily, then they would be more likely to read a great deal as well. This is also true for drinking as parents constitute the first role model for their child. If a person grew up in a family of alcoholics, that is what causes alcohol addiction in some. If a woman abused alcohol during the pregnancy, her child is more likely to become addicted, too.

Basically people live what they learn while they are growing, and will repeat that as adults. Thus, growing up in a family of alcoholics can become a psychological cause of alcoholism.

family of three drinking beer outside

Mental Health Problems and Alcoholism

It is no secret that alcoholism is heavily correlated with other mental health problems. Alcoholism is considered a mental illness itself, but when it appears along with other mental health problems, like depression or PTSD, it is called a co-occurring disorder. Moreover, having a mental illness predisposes a person to alcohol use and abuse as far as drinking is often used for self-medicating in an attempt to relieve the inner pain and avoid the emotional triggers.

However, having a mental illness does not mean anyone will become an addict. It does mean, however, that they are more likely to drink or use drugs than average, increasing the risks of addiction. Alcohol use becomes a coping mechanism, eventually leading to addiction.

Drinking at an Early Age

According to the US law, legal drinking age starts at 21 and this regulation was established for a reason. According to the national survey, individuals who started drinking alcohol in adolescence are not only more likely to develop alcohol addiction but also are at risk to develop alcohol dependence much faster. Early onset drinkers are also more likely to develop a chronic and relapsing addiction which is much harder to treat. Although drinking at an early age may seem normal in some cultures, it is one of the reasons for alcoholism.

Alcohol to Cope With Stress

Stress is one of the most widespread excuses for drinking. People drink on Fridays to weaken the work week tension and do not know that alcohol is a depressant. It slows down the central nervous system which makes a person:

  • More calm and relaxed
  • Sleepy
  • Have fewer inhibitions
  • Have difficulty remembering things
  • More confused
  • Become uncoordinated

Addiction develops, alcohol tolerance sets in and, eventually, coping with everyday stress seems impossible without a drink or two which can also lead to alcoholism.

Drinking Combined with Medication

Alcohol is a psychoactive substance, which means that it impacts how the brain and central nervous system function. There are medications which are psychoactive as well, like antidepressants for example. Some of these medications make alcohol twice as powerful; thus, the addiction sets in twice as fast. Certain medications in combination with ethanol affect the brain cells and hormones making it impossible to feel positive emotions without these substances.

The risk of developing alcoholism becomes a greater possibility with medications, so it is important to read the instructions and follow the doctor’s prescription to prevent alcoholism or other diseases.

woman holding a glass of whiskey and a handful of pills

Environment and Alcoholism

The environment, everything that surrounds a person, can be one of the reasons for alcoholism to develop. If a person’s environment includes a lot of drinking as the norm, say it is tradition to go out every night after work for a couple of beers before heading home, this makes it easier for the person to drink more and more. Especially if there are people in their social circle that drink a lot as well. The more environmental and social support for a person’s drinking means they are more likely to drink, and that will more likely be one of the causes of alcoholism and addiction.

Personality Factors Leading to Alcohol Abuse

An individual’s personality can also cause problems with alcohol and addiction. There are some personality types that can be a bad combination of drinking and alcohol. People who want to be the life of the party can be one example. Others who feel the need to please others and can’t say no may be another one. Low self-esteem and unstable psychics can also lead to excessive drinking, especially in combination with another cause. These are just some of the possibilities. If the personality seems to lend itself to drinking and situations with drinking, this could be a cause of alcoholism.

When to Seek Help

It is always much easier to find ways to prevent alcoholism with some background knowledge about the possible causes of addiction. If an individual is:

  • Missing work because of drinking
  • Fighting with others over their drinking
  • Lying about how much they drink
  • Drinking more and more
  • Finding they want to stop but simply can’t
  • Or are getting in trouble because of their drinking

These are the signs of alcohol abuse that mean that it is time to seek help if noticed in an individual. The same variables can also serve as the signs of relapse after the successful recovery. If one has noticed some of the abovementioned signs in their family or friends, it is important to contact one of the alcohol treatment facilities immediately to get help.


Gregory Okhifun

Dr. Gregory Okhifun

Medical Reviewer

Dr. Okhifun is a passionate medical doctor, with over five years’ experience as a general practitioner. His passion for medical education led to his journey in medical writing. He has a wealth of experience writing for hospitals and medical centers, health organizations, telemedicine platforms, wellness organizations, medical tourism publications, addiction websites, and websites focused on nutrition and nutraceuticals.
He also serves as medical coordinator and content writer for Gerocare Solutions, for which he also volunteers as a health advisor/consultant for the elderly.
Dr. Okhifun enjoys traveling, meditation, and reading.

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