Causes And Factors Of Alcoholism

Understanding Alcoholism: Causes, Risk Factors, and Getting Support

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder, is a complex condition with many contributing factors. As a family member or friend of someone struggling with alcoholism, it’s understandable to have a lot of questions about why it develops and how you can best support your loved one. This article explores some of the key causes and risk factors for alcoholism, as well as providing guidance on constructive ways to help an alcoholic in your life.

What Causes Alcoholism?

There is no single cause of alcoholism – it’s the result of a combination of genetic, psychological, social, and environmental influences. Key factors that can contribute to alcoholism include:

Genetics – People with a family history of alcoholism or addiction are significantly more likely to develop problems with alcohol themselves[1]. Genes impact both our risk of becoming addicted to alcohol and how our body processes alcohol.

Brain chemistry – Alcohol affects the production of key neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. For some, this can lead to alcohol dependence as they drink to recreate positive feelings caused by chemical changes in the brain[2]. Over time, the brain may require alcohol to function normally.

Early life experiences – Trauma, abuse, emotional neglect, stress, and instability in childhood can all increase the risk of alcoholism developing later in life[3]. Those with adverse experiences growing up may use alcohol to self-medicate.

Mental health issues – A large proportion of alcoholics have co-occurring mental health conditions like depression, PTSD, anxiety disorders, or personality disorders. In some cases, alcohol is used as a maladaptive coping mechanism for difficult emotions and experiences.

Social and cultural factors – Societal attitudes and cultural norms around drinking can normalize and encourage excessive alcohol use. Things like peer pressure, drinking to relieve stress, easy accessibility to alcohol, and lax attitudes toward intoxication are all relevant social influences.

Risk Factors for Alcoholism

While anyone can develop problems with alcohol, certain risk factors make some people more vulnerable:

  • Starting drinking early in adolescence
  • Binge drinking or drinking with the intention to get drunk
  • Using alcohol for coping with difficult emotions
  • Having blood relatives with alcoholism
  • Being diagnosed with a mental health disorder
  • Regularly experiencing high levels of stress with poor coping abilities
  • Childhood trauma or adverse experiences
  • Being male (men are twice as likely to have alcohol use disorders)

The more risk factors someone has, the higher their chance of developing dependence on alcohol. It’s important to know these risk factors not as a way to blame your loved one, but to better understand the influences that led to their alcoholism.

Helping a Loved One Struggling with Alcoholism

Finding out someone you love is an alcoholic can be emotionally devastating. You may feel overwhelmed with worry, anger, shame, or guilt. These reactions are normal – but it’s important not to let them hinder you from taking constructive actions to help.

The most effective things you can do are:

Educate yourself – Learn about alcoholism, its causes, and treatment options. The more you understand the condition, the better able you’ll be to empathize and assist effectively. Attend support groups like Al-Anon to connect with others facing similar struggles[4].

Express care and concern – Have an open, caring conversation with your loved one about their drinking patterns. Avoid shaming them, but clearly articulate your specific worries and desire to see them healthy. Make it clear you are on their side fighting the addiction, not fighting them.

Encourage professional help – Gradually guide them toward getting professional help from an addiction specialist, psychologist, or treatment program. Don’t expect an alcoholic to get better on their own. Support groups can also be very helpful during and after formal treatment.

Set boundaries – Establish rules around unacceptable behaviors and stick to defined consequences when rules are broken. This provides stability and consistency for the alcoholic in your life. Let them experience the natural impacts of their addiction without shielding them.

Practice self-care – You can’t support an alcoholic when you’re overwhelmed and exhausted yourself. Make time for your own needs and find healthy stress relief strategies. It’s a marathon, not a sprint – set yourself up to go the distance.

Modify expectations – Understand that addiction is a lifelong battle with ups and downs. Expect setbacks and backslides – they are normal. Focus on incremental progress and celebrate small wins, not just the end goal of sobriety.

With compassion, education, boundary-setting, and self-care, you can make a real difference in your loved one’s recovery journey. You may not be able to control their drinking, but you can control how you respond in constructive ways. And that response could ultimately save their life.

Additional Alcoholism Resources

For further information about alcoholism, here are some recommended resources:

Having a loved one with alcoholism is painful, but know that you are not alone. There are many people going through similar struggles who understand what you’re experiencing. Support groups can provide much-needed comfort, advice and hope during difficult times. With help available for both you and your loved one, there are always reasons to be encouraged, even in addiction’s darkest hours.