Risk Factors for Alcoholism

Alcohol is one of the most frequently used addictive substance in the United States and throughout the rest of the world. Many people are able to use this drug safely and in moderation – but for millions of others, alcohol use leads to a variety of negative outcomes, including addiction. There is no single cause of alcoholism. Instead, several internal and external factors can influence whether or not a person will become addicted to alcohol. When you understand the risk factors for alcoholism, you can be better prepared to protect yourself and your loved ones from this potentially devastating disorder.

What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is the informal term for a behavioral health condition that clinicians refer to as alcohol use disorder. It is also often called alcohol addiction. People who have this disorder find it difficult or virtually impossible to control the amount and frequency of their alcohol use. Alcoholism is also characterized by tolerance and withdrawal:

  • As a person’s body adapts to the presence of alcohol, they will need to use more of the drug in order to experience the effects they are seeking. This is known as developing tolerance.
  • When a person who has alcoholism tries to stop drinking, their body will react with a variety of painful physical and psychological symptoms. This experience is known as withdrawal.

Tolerance causes people to drink more. Withdrawal prevents them from stopping. These symptoms, combined with powerful urges, can trap people in a downward spiral that leads to disastrous effects. The compulsion to drink can cause people to sacrifice relationships, academic success, and career progress. Even after experiencing significant negative outcomes due to their alcohol use, people who are addicted to alcohol will be unable to stop.

Thankfully, alcoholism is a treatable condition. With proper help, people can regain control of their thoughts and behaviors. Education is an important part of treatment. As people learn about their risk factors for alcoholism, they can make the behavioral and lifestyle changes that will help them achieve long-term recovery. 

Genetic Risk Factors for Alcoholism

The authors of a 2013 study on the genetic risk factors for alcoholism wrote that “[a]bundant evidence indicates that alcoholism is a complex genetic disease, with variations in a large number of genes affecting risk.” This study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology, identified several specific genes that are associated with alcoholism.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) supports the belief that genetics play a significant role in determining a person’s risk for alcoholism. For example, the DSM-5 reports that alcoholism is three to four times more common among people who have close relatives with alcohol use disorder. 

Studies involving twins and adopted children reinforce other investigations into the genetic risk factor for alcoholism. The DSM-5 notes that researchers have found an elevated rate of alcoholism among children who were born to parents who have alcohol use disorder, but who were adopted and raised by parents who do not have the disorder.

Environmental Risk Factors for Alcoholism

Though genetics play an important role in determining if a person will become addicted to alcohol, they are far from the only factors to consider. A person’s risk for developing alcoholism can also be increased by several external, or environmental, influences. These external factors can include where they live, who they associate with, and what types of experiences they have.

Here are a few common environmental risk factors for alcoholism:

  • Childhood adversity: Being abused or neglected, losing a parent or other significant figure, and other adverse childhood experiences can increase the likelihood that a person will abuse and become addicted to alcohol.
  • Trauma: Many people turn to alcohol in an attempt to numb their emotional anguish in the aftermath of physical attacks, sexual assaults, domestic violence, and other traumatic events.
  • Physical environment: Living in an impoverished area, associating with peers who abuse alcohol, and having easy access to alcohol at a young age have all been identified as risk factors for alcoholism.

Mental Health Risk Factors for Alcoholism

Research indicates that the prevalence of alcohol abuse and addiction may be higher among people who have certain mental health disorders. The following mental illnesses have been associated with increased rates of alcoholism:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective disorder

The simultaneous presence of alcoholism and a mental health disorder is known as dual diagnosis. When a person enters treatment for alcohol addiction, it is important that they complete a mental health assessment. Failing to identify and address dual diagnosis can undermine a person’s ability to achieve and maintain recovery. But when a person receives treatment for their mental health concerns as well as their struggles with alcohol, they will be much better prepared for success.

Begin Treatment for Alcoholism in Birmingham, AL

Birmingham Recovery Center is a premier source of personalized alcohol rehab for adults whose lives have been disrupted by alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Services at our center in Birmingham, Alabama, include detoxification, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient programming, and outpatient rehab. Our team is committed to providing quality clinical care with compassion and respect. If you have been struggling with an addiction to alcohol, Birmingham Recovery Center is here for you. Give us a call or visit our admissions page to learn how we can help.


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