Over 95,000 Americans die from the effects of alcohol every year. A large majority of this staggering number suffer from alcoholism. But what is it, and how does it happen? Alcoholism is defined by a heavy dependence on drinking, regardless of the effects it produces. Many people who struggle with it develop alcohol use disorder. Learn more about alcohol addiction and causes of alcoholism.
Alcohol Use Disorder
An estimated 14.5 million people suffer from alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the United States. The main characteristic of AUD is the inability to quit drinking, even after experiencing adverse effects. These effects may be:
People with AUD often lose friends or family because of their drinking. They might have difficulties sustaining meaningful relations, resulting in breakups or divorce. These traumatic events can lead to feelings of isolation, self-harm activities, and thoughts of suicide.
Mental consequences include depression, anxiety, and other disorders. But heavy alcohol consumption also has physical effects, which can lead to:
- Chronic illnesses
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Weight fluctuations
Occupational and financial ruin can result from alcohol abuse. Abuse can lead to blowing off work, underperforming, or getting fired. These career difficulties can then create immense financial hardships.
Causes of Alcoholism
Alcoholism affects all people, regardless of age, gender, socio-economic status, or race. The causes of AUD are a combination of genetics, psychology, environment, and social factors.
Although the drinking age is 21, teens often disregard the law to experiment with alcohol. While trying their first sip of beer at a party, they’re naively unaware of the impact it can have on their lives. Many studies show that early introduction to alcohol is a risk factor for alcoholism.
In one study, 45% of teens who had their first drink before turning 14 developed AUD later in adulthood. That’s a 35% higher risk than individuals who waited until they were legal. Teens who began drinking early also engaged in other risky activities like:
- Not using seatbelts
- Riding with drunk drivers
- Trying illicit drugs
- Engaging in fights
- Underage pregnancy
If you’re the parent of a teen, talk to them about the signs of addiction. Keeping an open dialogue and encouraging honest communication may help you monitor their behavior.
Toxic Work Environment
Going out for drinks with co-workers on a Friday night or attending happy hours is standard fare in most workplaces. But when does social drinking turn into self-medication?
A large, cross-cultural study found that work stress can predict the likelihood of alcoholism. High-risk careers like police officers and medical staff reported high rates of alcohol misuse. Workers cited traumatic experiences and harsh work conditions as the reasons.
Professionals with demanding careers often use alcohol for social reasons, but friendly drinks soon become a coping mechanism. Even workers without demanding, hazardous jobs experience work-related alcohol issues.
The study found that bartenders demonstrated high rates of alcohol dependency. Almost 70% of survey participants had consumed alcohol during their shift. Their workplace became a toxic environment where alcohol was the central focus.
Mental Health Disorders
Roughly one-third of adults with a mental illness also suffer from addiction. Alcohol abuse and mental health have a circular relationship. One affects the other and vice versa, often making treatment more difficult.
Alcohol can often amplify mental health symptoms. An individual with mild depression who uses alcohol may find their symptoms becoming more severe with time. They might start to rely on alcohol as a coping mechanism, chasing its fleeting feel-good effects.
This cycle can continue while the addiction and depression become more alarming. Other mental health disorders that typically co-occur with alcoholism include:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Personality disorders
Those who abuse alcohol are also more likely to use nicotine. Studies found that around one-third of cigarette smokers also struggle with alcohol addiction.
Risky behavior and alcohol go hand-in-hand. Heavy consumption of alcohol clouds your judgment, often leading to unsafe scenarios. Mixing medication with drinks is one of the most dangerous drinking practices.
Long-term misuse of certain medicines and alcohol can lead to liver and heart damage. But immediate effects can include:
- Vomiting and nausea
- Slowed movements and speech
- Changes in blood pressure or heart rate
So why would someone mix medication and alcohol? Some combinations result in more intense euphoric feelings. Others simply need to take medication for another condition but can’t give up alcohol.
Mixing illegal drugs with alcohol is even more dangerous. Drugs like cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy can lead to overdose, death, or heart attack when mixed with alcohol.
Family and Childhood History
Alcoholism can be both hereditary and genetic. But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed if it runs in your family. Your environment, life choices, and personality also play a critical role.
Global twin studies show that the inheritability rate of alcoholism is between 45% and 65%. And although there’s no “alcoholism gene,” studies with adopted children show compelling results. The children tended to mirror their biological parents’ risk for addiction.
Early life events during childhood often impact your adulthood. These can increase the risk factors for alcoholism and include:
- Childhood trauma
- Severe early-life stress
- Alcoholic parents
- Less parental monitoring
- Bad home environment
- Behavior problems
- Low interest in school
- High rebelliousness
- Depression and anxiety
Children who face these issues at a young age are more likely to try alcohol early. They’re also more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder. Studies show that being male and Caucasian increases these risks even further.
Take Control of Alcoholism Today
The causes of alcoholism are multi-faceted. They include genetic, social, and environmental factors. The state of your mental health and your workplace are also strong influences.
If you’re struggling with alcohol dependence, it’s time to take control of your life. MARR Addiction Treatment Centers offer personalized programs for men and women. We also welcome mothers with children!
Get in touch with our counselors for a confidential assessment today. With over 45 years of experience, we’re confident we can help you take back control of your life!