Alcohol Abuse Risk Factors

As a chronic disease, alcoholism has no known cure. A variety of risk factors are believed to cause the development of alcoholism. The development of alcoholism will be different for every individual.

Alcohol abuse is a risky habit that can put anyone who abuses it at a higher risk of developing alcoholism. Alcoholism is a chronic disease that has a number of risk factors that affect one’s health and well-being. There is no one main cause of alcoholism, rather, a number of factors are believed to contribute to the development of alcoholism.

What Is Alcoholism?

While the most severe cases of alcoholism are usually the most publicized, even milder cases of alcoholism put one at a high risk for damaging their health and relationships.

Causes Of Alcoholism

  • Biological factors: Everyone has a different reaction to alcohol. Some may find that alcohol simply makes them drowsy, and they don’t experience the more excitable or energizing effects of alcohol. Others become energized, talkative, and happy. This means that some will enjoy the effects of alcohol more than others, and be more predisposed to using it as a result.
  • Genetic factors: A study conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine showed that about half of one’s genes affect the development of alcoholism. If you have family members who have been diagnosed with alcoholism or shown signs of alcohol abuse, your risk of developing it rises.
  • Environmental factors: Depending on where you grew up, alcohol may or may not have been commonly present. If you grow up in a situation where alcohol is commonly used (or abused), the likelihood you will use it yourself rises. You may be pressured to drink. Additionally, in situations of child abuse, the risk for developing alcoholism in the future grows.
  • Cultural influence: We all grow up watching TV shows and commercials that casually promote the use of alcohol. Often, it’s a subconscious influence that we do not even realize. We consume popular culture without realizing how much it shapes our views and beliefs. When a TV show depicts casual and even binge drinking, it becomes more commonly accepted as acceptable behavior.

Ultimately, it is not possible to blame one reason or the other for the development of alcoholism. Rather, it is understood that the development of alcoholism is a combination of risk factors. The more risk factors at play, the more likely alcoholism will be a problem in the future.

Some are at a higher risk than others. If there are multiple factors at play, such as a combination of environmental and genetic factors, that puts one at a higher risk of developing alcoholism.

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Risk Factors For Alcoholism

  • Mental illness: Psychological illness and substance abuse are closely linked. If left untreated, a person may be tempted to “self-medicate,” or use to calm feelings of depression and anxiety, for example.
  • Peer pressure: Peer pressure can originate from friends or even family. If one has grown up around alcohol, they may associate drinking with a good time from a young age. College students are shown to participate in greater amounts of binge drinking, which also puts them at a higher risk for developing alcoholism.
  • Binge drinking: Binge drinking is most common among youth aged between 18-34 years. Binge drinking has been shown to put one at a higher risk for developing alcohol dependence.
  • Community influence: Those who have lived in a more impoverished area are shown to be more likely to develop symptoms of alcoholism. In the same way that environmental factors in the family environment can inspire alcohol abuse, one’s community has the same effect.

Why Does Relapse Happen?

Those who have been diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder are at high risk for relapse. In fact, relapse rates for alcoholism have been shown to be similar to other chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure and asthma. Like any other chronic condition, there is no known cure, and the possibility of relapse is always a risk.

The following are some common reasons for relapse:

  • Environmental pressure: When exiting a recovery program, it may be an option to enter a sober living facility. It is believed that entering an environment without alcohol will prevent against instances of relapse. However, if one returns to the environment in which they commonly drank before, this can cause them to use again.
  • Mental illness: It has been shown that co-occurring psychological conditions are very common in those who have been diagnosed with alcoholism. If a mental illness is not properly addressed within the treatment process, it becomes far likelier that one will return to former habits.
  • Temptation: Cravings are a very common experience in recovery. While in recovery for alcoholism, you will learn how to manage your cravings with a number of different techniques. Therapists and medical professionals will help you to identify which triggers caused you to use before. For example, it may be beneficial to avoid certain situations and people that you drank with before. Having an “exit plan” for the experience of triggers in those environments can be beneficial.

When relapse occurs, it is important to remember that relapse is common and it does not mean that you have failed. Rather, it is a good opportunity to identify triggers that caused you to use again, and address those triggers.

Some may believe that relapse means you are starting recovery over from the beginning, but this is not the case. After all, you have come a long way with maintaining sobriety, however long a period of time that may be. It is a matter of addressing where you may want to adjust the techniques you used before, and moving forward.

A good treatment program will help you prepare for the possibility of relapse and apply strategies that will help with preventing relapse in the future.

Treatment For Alcoholism

It can be difficult to decide whether it is time or not to seek treatment for alcoholism.

If you feel that alcohol has affected you in the following ways, it may be time to seek treatment:

  • Drinking has caused problems in relationships with friends and family
  • Drinking has caused problems with employment, such as being fired
  • Drinking has affected hobbies and activities you enjoyed before
  • You are experiencing mental health issues as a result of drinking
  • You continue to drink despite experiencing dangerous consequences, such as blacking out regularly
  • Drinking has caused you legal problems
  • You need to drink more than before in order to experience the effects of alcohol

Treatment for alcoholism will take into consideration all the potential causes and risk factors that may have contributed to a pattern of alcohol abuse. By addressing the multiple causes and risk factors of alcoholism, treatment plans can successfully help you to maintain your sobriety.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Fact Sheets - Binge Drinking

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) - Risk and Protective Factors

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) - Alcohol Use Disorder

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) - The Genetics of Alcoholism

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) - Drugs, Brains and Behavior: The Science of Addiction

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