The Risk Factors for Alcoholism

It’s important to recognize the risk factors for developing alcoholism or alcohol use disorder. While many can be avoided, some can’t. Here’s more information.

Understanding Alcoholism

Alcoholism, officially known as alcohol use disorder or AUD, is a chronic pattern of alcohol use that creates problematic behaviors, thought patterns, and compulsions. It leads to countless problems in the body, brain, and lives of the individual battling the disease. The disorder is also progressive in the sense that users will develop a tolerance after a period and will need to begin consuming larger amounts of alcohol or consuming alcoholic beverages more often to keep feeling the desired effects.

Once tolerance develops, building a dependence is the next step. Once alcohol dependence forms, it can be incredibly challenging to stop alcohol use. This is because once the alcohol in the body is metabolized, it needs to be replaced. If not, the person will begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms. 

Alcohol use disorder is a spectrum disorder, meaning there are various levels of severity that can be diagnosed. Just as the disorder itself can fluctuate in severity, so can the detox and withdrawal process.

Risk Factors for Alcoholism

According to data from the NIH, there are multiple possible causes of AUDs, including genetic, psychological, and environmental factors. AUDs may even have various contributing alcoholism risk factors per individual. The combination of their risk factors during developmentally-crucial times plays a vital role in how they influence each person, in combination with their internal risk factors. 

Biological Risk Factors

Biological factors can be some of the most powerful risk factors for alcoholism. These links are some of the strongest correlating links in the study of alcoholism risk factors. 

This includes genetics, inherited characteristics and tendencies, and the physiology of the individual. Some people can easily limit or control the amounts they drink. Others have less refined impulse control when it comes to drinking. 

For most people, drinking brings about feelings of relaxation and pleasure, which cause the brain to release dopamine. Dopamine is one of the most powerful reinforcing chemicals in rewarding behavior. This is one of the reasons that building alcoholic behaviors comes so easily for some. It’s because the behavior is repetitive and highly rewarded by the brain.

Additionally, certain chemical and compositional factors can make a person more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder. Some data shows that alcohol use and abuse may be influenced by more than 50 separate genes across multiple chromosomes. These genes can be passed from one generation to the next, and family members that have a closer biological link to someone with alcoholism have a greater likelihood of developing a similar disorder.

Social Risk Factors

Many social factors can influence an individual’s potential to develop an AUD. A recent NIH survey found that for people ages 26 and older, those who started drinking before 15 were up to 5x more likely, to report having AUD in the past year than those who waited until age 21 or later to begin drinking.

In addition to peers, cultural background, religion, and even professional groups can influence behaviors. While the family is one of the strongest influences, it’s far from the only one. 

Starting a new job or entering college are two additional social factors that can lead to the development of an AUD. There is often a strong desire to fit in. In many environments, the framework of problematic drinking is already in place. 

Psychological Risk Factors

Psychological factors can vary from person to person but will present considerable challenges to avoiding alcoholism. Since each person deals with stress and similar situations individually, some people are more likely to develop AUD as an unhealthy coping mechanism. 

People living with elevated levels of stress, anxiety, depression, or one of many other mental health disorders. Alcohol is one of the most common ways to attempt to self-medicate. It can be used to avoid uncomfortable thoughts or emotions. 

Over time, this can lead to a very high potential to develop habitual and problematic drinking. That could lead to an alcohol use disorder. Unfortunately, this behavior is self-reinforcing, preventing the proper treatment of alcohol use disorder and mental illness. To treat co-occurring disorders effectively, they all need to be treated simultaneously, which can be difficult if they cannot be easily diagnosed in the first place. 

Environmental Risk Factors

Environmental risk factors are another category of risk factor that has been investigated for its possible connections between an individual’s surroundings and their potential to develop an alcohol use disorder. One of the investigations, for example, was to determine if a person’s proximity to locations that were alcohol-focused establishments had any effect on their potential to become an alcoholic. 

These studies have found that people living closer to alcohol-focused establishments like bars or liquor stores have a more favorable opinion of drinking. They are more likely to participate in alcohol-related studies.

It’s also easy to see alcohol companies are constantly exposing the public to advertisements for alcoholic products. Not only do these advertisements often show drinking as a fun, social, relaxing, and acceptable habit. Additionally, it’s almost impossible to engage in a major holiday in the US without binge drinking. Alcohol is so ingrained in American culture it has its own meme and content niche.

Getting Help for Alcoholism

If you or someone you care about has been struggling with alcoholism, it can be incredibly isolating. However, help is available for those who need it. By reaching out to NYC Addiction Resources, you can find a local treatment center that has the treatment programs and activities that are right for your recovery needs, and you can begin your journey on the road to recovery.