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Alcohol Abuse Risk Factors

David Hunter, MA.Ed, LPC

Medically reviewed by

David Hunter, MA.Ed, LPC

March 21, 2019

When a person drinks in the unhealthy pattern of behavior that is associated with alcohol abuse, they have their own specific set of circumstances that brought them there. However, despite the unique nature of each individual who faces alcohol abuse, there are certain risk factors that have been identified as being common influences across the board. Learn the common risk factors of alcohol abuse today to protect you or a loved one.

What Are Risk Factors, And Why Are They Of Concern?

The steps a person takes from drinking responsibly to alcohol abuse is dependent and in line with certain factors. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), elaborates, stating that risk factors “are characteristics at the biological, psychological, family, community, or cultural level that precede and are associated with a higher likelihood of negative outcomes.” They continue to tell us that certain risk factors are unchanging, whereas others, like “income level, peer group, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and employment status,” may change over time.

Any person can experience risk factors at any point in their life, however, children, youth, and young adults may experience risk factors that increase the likelihood that they will struggle with alcohol abuse or addiction later in life. First, we will examine these. As noted by, risk factors that individuals of these age brackets contend with, include:

  • Early aggressive behavior
  • Lack of parental supervision
  • Academic problems
  • Undiagnosed mental health problems
  • Peer substance use
  • Drug availability
  • Poverty
  • Peer rejection
  • Child abuse or neglect

It is important to note that not every individual who experiences these things will develop alcohol abuse, however, these years are extremely formative to a person, thus experiencing these factors do make it more likely. tells us that individuals who encounter these things for a “prolonged duration…from childhood through adolescence, are also associated with increased likelihood of youth substance abuse.” This directly correlates to a risk factor for adults. Mayo Clinic tells us that “People who begin drinking at an early age, and especially in a binge fashion, are at a higher risk of alcohol use disorder.” Even if an adult did not experience these factors as a child, they may still develop issues of alcohol abuse or addiction. Mayo Clinic goes on to outline various risk factors that may impact an adult. They are as follows:

Patterns of excessive drinking — The consistent use of large quantities of alcohol over an extended period of time, or patterns of binge drinking can greatly raise a person’s risk towards developing a more serious issue down the road. In addition to a higher risk of developing physical, mental, and emotional damage from alcohol, this includes an increased risk of developing an addiction to alcohol.

The age of the person — When accepting a beer bottle or any other type of alcohol at an early age, and consuming it, especially in a binge-like fashion, these individuals are at a far higher risk of falling into an alcohol-related disorder, including addiction, down the road. Though many teens start drinking, alcohol use disorders start happening more typically within a person’s 20s or 30s, however, alcohol abuse and addiction can begin at any time.

Alcohol-related problems within the family tree — Research illustrates that a person has a much greater risk of falling prey to an alcohol use disorder when they have a parent or a different significant relative who has dealt with alcohol abuse and addiction. It is largely thought that genetic factors can greatly influence a person’s alcohol abuse problems.

Mental health disorders — People who suffer from a mental health disorder like anxiety, depression, or many others, experience higher odds of suffering from alcohol abuse or addiction. This is largely due to the fact that many individuals will ignore and fail to treat their symptoms, instead of seeking to alleviate their discomfort by self-medicating with alcohol.

Societal and cultural influences — Encountering settings, where lots of friends or someone within a close relationship is constantly drinking, can form a greater risk for an alcohol use disorder. This risk may be further enhanced by pressures within advertising and entertainment. The laughter, fun, and joy on people’s faces in commercials cause people to romanticize drinking and attribute only positive effects to it. These venues can also portray the message that it’s perfectly fine to drink way too much.

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Media is loaded with TV shows, music, and movies showing the “fun” of alcohol, in a setting that leaves out the real-life negative existence and results of these disorders. Teens are especially prone to these risks, especially when paired with the influence of parents and their friends.

Beyond these, a person’s economic standing, job status, marital status, ethnicity, and peer group may all add to their risk.

If you or someone you love suffers from alcohol abuse or addiction, it can be helpful to understand what brought you there. Additionally, if you’re at a point where your alcohol use has not accelerated to this point yet, it can be helpful to be aware of these, so that you may take preventative measures.

If you witness any of these influences or risk factors, it is important to distance yourself from them as much as possible, and instead strive to surround yourself with positive influences instead.

Hope Exists, Understanding Protective Factors

Despite the negative and immense impact of these risk factors, it is possible to oppose and offset their detriment. Typically, for every risk factor, there exists the opportunity for positive influence, or protective factor to offset the potential for damage. SAMHSA defines them as having “characteristics associated with a lower likelihood of negative outcomes or that reduce a risk factor’s impact. Protective factors may be seen as positive countering events.”

In terms of childhood and youth risk factors, parental involvement, teaching children coping skills, fostering academic success, forging greater neighborhood cohesion, and the implementation of anti-drug use policies and education, all go great lengths to protect a person.

In regards to the more general risk factors that may impact an adult, it is imperative to offer greater outreach and preventative measures, family support, treatment and support options, mental health care, and positive peer influences.

If individuals have access to these positive protective factors, they have a better chance of forging enough strength to overcome the temptation or pressure of any risk factors they may face.

Counter The Risk And Seek Help

If you or a loved one is at risk, and you are in need of more information, please contact us today. Avoid the risk, and take the time to find the help you need to get control back in your life. can offer you resources to help you or a loved one find the treatment program that is right for you.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Risk and Protective Factors - Risk & Protective Factors

Mayo Clinic - Alcohol use disorder: Risk factors

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol Alert

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