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What Causes Alcoholism?
Where alcoholism is concerned, what might have started as fun and games in teenage or college eventually translates into something more serious - addiction. So much so that a 2012 report by the NIAAA reported that 71% of all interviewed adults agreed that they had drunk alcohol at some point or other in the year - with even more saying that they usually drink more than what's recommended.
The New York Times also puts the number of adults in the United States at risk of developing into alcoholics and/or suffering problems related to alcohol at 28% of the entire population.
From the college student who turns to drink over the weekend to the ad executive who meets up with clients at bars after work and boiling down to stay at home moms who down an entire bottle of chardonnay every evening, the problem of alcoholism is quite commonplace.
In the majority of cases, the concerned parties often deny that they have a problem controlling their drinking. This is especially true among functional alcoholics who fail to understand the hows and whys of alcohol abuse.
In particular, given the fact that so many alcoholics hold down stable jobs, keep their families together, and meet almost all of their expected social obligations, it can be difficult for anyone to view themselves as alcoholics.
This is particularly the case because there are socially-perpetuated stereotypes of an alcoholic - one who has hit rock bottom and is no longer able to live up to their obligations at work, in the home, or among others.
However, there is more to alcoholism than meets the eye. This guide will decipher the meaning of the term, as well as review the major (as well as a couple of minor) causes of alcohol dependency and addiction.
At its most basic, alcoholism can be defined as the chronic consumption of anything intoxicating - particularly with respect to alcoholic beverages. As such, it refers to the uncommon term, alcohol dependence syndrome which defines the basic characteristic behavior typical among alcoholics. In particular, alcoholism usually impairs the alcoholic's control over the drinking, which eventually translates into their inability to control the direction their life is taking fully.
Also called alcohol use disorder, this problem tends to crop up when you become so used to drinking alcoholic beverages that your body becomes addicted or dependent on them to function. With time, alcohol ranks very highly on your priority list.
Most of the people who are dependent on alcohol, to this end, will continue drinking even when such an action leads to negative consequences such as the loss of a job or family. Among this group, drinking becomes a norm even after alcohol starts to affect their lives negatively.
For those who drink alcohol to the point that it causes issues in their lives - both personal and professional - dependence might not be a problem. Here, it might simply be a case of alcohol abuse, one of the steps towards alcoholism.
Alcoholism Risk Factors
Before the development of alcoholism, some factors might influence your ability to fall prey to the problem. Although these risk factors don't necessarily mean that you are going to develop a problem with alcohol, they might still prove useful for prevention purposes. As such, you might want to talk to a medical professional to get prevention resources and further understand the warning signs.
That said, the following constitute the main risk factors that act as a precursor to the development of a drinking problem:
1. Early Experimentation
One of the most common of all risk factors attached to alcoholism includes drinking from an early age. In fact, the earlier you experiment with alcoholic drinks, the higher the likelihood that you will become addicted later on in life. This mostly applies to teens who frequently engage in binge drinking sessions.
Still, although drinking from an early age tends to increase anyone's likelihood of alcoholism, the problem can affect just about anyone and at any age.
2. Family History
The second risk factor for alcoholism lies in a family history of addiction. More particularly, those who grow up around close relatives and family members suffering from the alcohol addiction have a higher likelihood of ending up in the same place some years down the line.
This risk factor is of particular concern given the fact that most people tend to ape their older relations. To this end, when you grow up in surroundings where people tend to drink excessively - people who are linked to you through familial ties - it is highly likely that you are going to have a positive view of the habits they practice. Later on, you might end up drinking more than usual.
Drinking alcohol as a reaction to stress also carries the risk of turning into alcoholism. This mostly applies to those who choose careers linked with high-stress levels emanating from strenuous tasks and long hours - including but not limited to the military, construction workers, emergency rescue workers, nurses, and doctors.
As a professional in any of these industries, it is important that you look for alternative ways to get rid of stress. Only by so doing will you be able to avoid becoming another victim of alcohol abuse.
4. Peer Pressure
Where you have close friends or a partner who drinks frequently, it is highly likely that you'll eventually join them. By giving in to peer pressure, you'll soon develop a drinking problem - as well as other health complications arising from the excessive consumption of alcohol.
In this case, you should consider offering your partner or friend to drive them back home - instead of giving in to the urge to join them when they start drinking.
5. Frequent Drinking
Another risk factor linked to alcoholism revolves around frequent drinking over an extended period. When you make overdrinking a habit, you increase your chances of becoming an alcoholic.
In fact, the more one drinks, the greater the tolerance your body will build towards alcohol. This tolerance will eventually mean that your body will need more alcohol to achieve the desired effects you used to feel when you first started drinking.
Some more common risk factors associated with alcoholism include, but are not limited to:
- Drinking 15+ drinks a week (men)
- Drinking 12+ drinks a week (women)
- Binge drinking 5+ drinks a day, at least once every week
- Mental health problems, such as schizophrenia, anxiety, or depression
- Feelings of low self-esteem
There are two main ways through which you can find out whether you are an alcoholic or not. Consider the following:
Most people find it hard to draw a line between alcohol dependence and abuse and safe use. According to Mayo Clinic, you can think of yourself as having a problem if your answer is yes to any of the following questions:
- Do you need to drink more to feel the actual effects of alcohol?
- Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking habits?
- Do you have a tendency of becoming violent or irritable while drinking?
- Has your drinking been causing problems at work or in school?
- Do you feel like it is time to cut back on how much you drink?
You can turn to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) for more comprehensive tests on the issue. By taking these tests, you will be able to assess yourself to see if you have an alcohol problem.
b) Professional Diagnosis
You can also pay a visit to your primary healthcare provider or doctor so that they can diagnose whether you are an alcoholic. During the consultation, the professional will perform physical exams after asking you a couple of questions, including whether you:
- Drive while drunk
- Have lost a job or missed work due to your drinking
- Need to take more alcohol to feel drunk
- Have experienced blackouts after binge drinking
- Have experienced problems trying to cut back on how much alcohol you consume
Apart from the above, they might also ask you to fill in a questionnaire to assess your level of alcoholism before they are better able to diagnose the condition.
In most cases, the diagnosis of alcohol dependence and addiction will not require other types of diagnostic tests. However, your doctor might still ask for blood tests to assess how well your liver is functioning. This mostly applies to alcoholics who display signs and symptoms of liver disease.
Remember, one of the reasons why you need to get tested is because alcohol abuse seriously and permanently destroys the liver. Since the liver removes toxins from the body, drinking too much alcohol means that it has a harder time sifting through all toxins from the bloodstream - including alcohol. This is why overdrinking often leads to such complications as liver diseases.
Symptoms Of Alcoholism
The symptoms of alcohol abuse, dependence, and addiction are based on the physical outcomes and behaviors resulting from alcoholism.
If you have alcohol use disorder, you might engage in any of the following:
- Drinking on your own
- Developing a high tolerance to alcohol, forcing you to drink more just to feel the effects
- Becoming angry or violent when asked about your drinking habits
- Eating poorly
- Not eating
- Neglecting your cleanliness and hygiene
- Missing school or work to drink or because you are drunk
- Being unable to control how much alcohol you take
- Making excuses so that you can drink
- Continuing your drinking habits even after economic, social, and legal problems crop up
- Giving up your most important recreational, occupational, and social activities due to alcohol use
b) Physical Symptoms
In the same way, alcoholism can also lead to any or all of the physical symptoms listed below:
- Craving alcohol
- Withdrawal symptoms when you are not drinking, such as vomiting, nausea, and shaking
- Tremors and involuntary shaking the morning after you drink
- Memory lapses and blackouts after a night of heavy drinking
- Illnesses, such as alcoholic ketoacidosis with dehydration-like symptoms and liver cirrhosis (scarring)
Genetics And Alcoholism
More recently, scientific evidence suggests that genetics plays an important role where alcoholism is concerned. According to the NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), there is a possibility that the condition is transmitted through families and that it is more than a matter of environmental influences.
Research by the body also finds that there are certain behavioral patterns common among families with a history of alcohol abuse and dependence. This was so much so that the DRD2 gene is now associated with the condition.
Although the primary connections between the gene and alcoholism haven't been verified, it is still considered to be one of the principal causes of the condition.
In one study, researchers reviewed a case of two pairs of twins being nurtured by separate adoptive parents. Through the study, it was discovered that the potential for alcoholism was significantly higher in the twins who had an alcoholic father as compared to the set with a non-alcoholic father.
After the study, the researchers also concluded the incidence of alcohol abuse, dependence, and addiction had a higher likelihood of occurring between identical twins with the same genetic composition in comparison to fraternal twins who only share 50% of their genetic makeup.
Similar scientific studies reveal that the children of parents with an alcohol problem are even more likely to develop a similar problem compared to members of the general public.
It isn't too surprising that these same children tend to be exposed to an environment that contains the risk factors for developing alcoholism. In the same way, the occurrence of the condition among first-degree relatives tends to be 3 to 4 times more in comparison to the general populace.
However, the findings are also interesting in the sense that not all the children of alcoholics develop alcohol-related problems. In fact, some of the twins in the study who had a family history of the problem did not display any traces or symptoms of alcoholism.
To this end, it is not conclusive to state that genetics plays a significant role in determining whether someone will become an alcoholic. Still, it is safe to get help as early as possible - particularly if there are such instances in your family.
Leading Causes Of Alcoholism
Many different factors come into play where alcohol use disorder is concerned. After drinking for a long time, your brain will start relying on alcohol to release the feel good hormones that come from being drunk.
As a direct result, heavy drinkers usually have a hard time quitting. They also display serious withdrawal symptoms that might eventually cause them to relapse to their old binge drinking habits.
That said, there are many factors responsible for causing alcoholism. These include but are not limited to:
1. Biological Factors
Research shows close links between certain biological factors of a genetic and physiological nature and alcoholism. Whereas some people can place limits on how much they can drink, others feel an uncontrollable urge to keep going even when they are already drunk.
In other cases, drinking alcohol gives some people great feelings of pleasure. This causes them to repeat the behavior even more often until they eventually fall prey to alcoholism.
Similarly, the existence of certain chemicals within the structure of the brain might make you very vulnerable to alcohol use, abuse, dependence, and addiction. For instance, researchers agree that there around 51 genes in different chromosome regions responsible for alcoholism. When these genes are passed down from one generation to the next, the members of that family will be more susceptible to developing serious drinking problems.
2. Environmental Factors
Recent studies have explored possible connections between the risks of alcoholism and the environment. Some researchers, for instance, tried to determine whether proximity to bars and alcohol retails stores affected the rates of alcoholism. In this study, it was discovered that those who live close to these types of establishments tend to look at alcohol positively and were more likely to drink.
In the same way, alcohol manufacturers have been bombarding us with many ads on lifestyles surrounding alcohol and drinking. In most of these ads, drinking is portrayed as a norm of life - fun, relaxing, and entirely acceptable. In fact, it is not surprising that the rate of alcoholism has gone up in the years between 1970 and 2000 - years during which alcohol ads increased by over 400 percent.
Income, which is another environmental factor, also plays a vital role in the total volume of alcohol consumed. Contrary to popular belief, people living in more affluent neighborhoods have a higher likelihood of developing into alcoholics in comparison to those who live in poverty.
Recently, a pool on annual consumption habits from Gallup revealed that 78% of individuals from households with an annual income of $75000+ consume alcohol. This figure is significantly higher than the close to 45% of people from households with an income of $30000 or less who drink alcohol.
3. Social Factors
A good number of social factors contribute to your views on drinking. Your work, family, religion, and culture all act as influences in the behavior you choose to engage in - including but not limited to drinking.
In particular, family relationships play the biggest roles in your likelihood to develop alcohol dependence and addiction. This is to such an extent that children who become exposed to alcohol use from an early age have a higher risk of falling into the same dangerous drinking patterns common in their families.
Starting a new job or enrolling in college might also increase your risk of developing into an alcoholic. At this period, you will be looking to form new relationships and make new friends with your peers.
The innate human desire to fit in and attract others might lead you to activities that you are not generally used to. With time, you will be going out to drink with your new friends - a habit that will eventually cause you to start craving alcohol after every given period.
4. Psychological Factors
Psychology might also increase the chances that you'll drink heavily. People handle different situations in their own way. However, the way you choose to cope with your feelings might have an impact on your behavior.
For instance, if you feel highly stressed, anxious, or depressed - or if you suffer from poor mental health - you are more vulnerable to becoming an alcoholic. In these types of situations, you will often turn to alcohol to suppress your feelings and/or relieve the symptoms that your psychological disorders have brought about.
With time, repeated drinking might turn into a habit that eventually leads you down the path to alcoholism. In fact, when you turn to alcohol more to ease your feelings of hardship and pain, your body will become more tolerant to alcohol.
In the same way, co-occurring mental health and alcohol abuse conditions - like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression might end up causing even more severe side effects.
Other Causes of Alcoholism
Several other causes have been linked to alcoholism. These include:
Researchers have discovered that gender plays a pivotal role where alcohol dependence and addiction is concerned. To this end, it was determined that men have a higher likelihood of developing this condition in comparison to men.
This is not surprising considering that men tend to drink more alcohol than women in most cultures. Alcohol is also a part of daily life for most men - for relaxation, to forget, for celebration, and even while socializing.
With repeated drinking, men are even more likely to become alcoholics.
As stated above, one of the leading causes of addiction to alcohol is drinking on a regular basis - particularly when such drinking goes over and beyond what can be considered to be moderate.
c) Brain Changes
Alcohol has a high tendency of altering the chemistry in the brain. More particularly, drinking causes your brain to produce more dopamine that is normal. Since Dopamine is a feel good hormone, you tend to become addicted to it when you repeatedly drink. Over time, your body will build a tolerance to it - meaning that you are going to have to drink more alcohol to derive the same level of pleasure you got when you took your first sip.
With increased drinking, you will eventually start developing dependence to alcohol - if only to feel this kind of pleasure in the brain.
d) Personality Type
People with particular personality traits are more likely to develop alcoholism. In fact, today there are certain known alcoholic characters comprised of people who display the following traits:
- Emotional immaturity
- Inability to cope well with frustration
Those who are dependent on alcohol also have a higher likelihood of experiencing problems with communication, as well as feeling socially inferior, depressed, low self-esteem, and guilty.
e) Social Types
Most people with a risk of developing into alcoholics tend to have a difficult time fitting into certain social situations. As such, they tend to avoid groups - feeling like they are somewhat different from others or that they don't belong. To counter these feelings, they drink alcohol to feel comfortable enough to interact with others.
Last but not least, research shows that people who start drinking at an early age are even more likely to become dependent and addicted to alcohol. For instance, teens that start experimenting with alcohol increase their chances of having issues with drinking later on in their lives.
Alcoholism In Young People
According to the NIAAA - UDRI (National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Underage Drinking Research Initiative) around 5000 young adults aged below 21 years lose their lives from underage drinking. The same initiative came up with the following statistics:
- 1900 young people died from accidents and vehicular crashes
- 1600 died from homicide
- 300 committed suicide
- The remaining number died from injuries such as drowning, falls, and burns
In a 2011 study, SAMHSA (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) reported that 26.4% of people between the ages of 12 and 21 had consumed alcoholic beverages in the 30 days before the research was carried out. In the group, the study found, 17.4% of those interviewed reported to binge drinking at one point or the other.
From these studies, it is clear that the consumption of alcohol is quite prevalent among young adults. In this group, alcohol is considered more pervasive and accepted in comparison to such illicit drugs as marijuana and OTC medications.
The NIAAA also reported that most young people drink simply because their friends drink. This allows them to adapt easily to their environment while giving them an opportunity to confirm that they are increasingly independent.
It is for this reason that peer pressure is now considered to be one of the leading causes of alcoholism among young adults. More particularly, teens tend to be highly susceptible to peer pressure where the consumption of alcohol is concerned. This is because they are still in their formative years - where they still need to learn how to control their impulses and behaviors.
As such, teens have a hard time resisting peer pressure - particularly when it comes from more experienced and/or older individuals. To prevent this from happening to your children, it is imperative that you teach them the importance of abstaining from alcohol use until they turn 21.
Alcoholism In Adults
Data presented by the CDCP (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) in 2010 showed that more than 50.9% of all people above the age of 18 drink alcohol frequently, with 13.6 percent only choosing to drink infrequently.
Over and above all, 23% of all adults above the age of 18 drink more than five alcohol beverages on any given day. Further, close to 60% of men are regular drinkers.
Even among adults, it is also evident that peer pressure has a direct correlation to alcoholism. Many adults still carry the scars and wounds from their earlier years. As such, they make their decisions simply to gain the respect of their superiors and peers. Some even end up on sprees and binge drinking nights simply because they wish to be labeled as cool, hip, and fashionable.
As such, both adults and young children/teen need help where alcoholism and social pressure are concerned.
Treatment For Alcohol Abuse
Like with any other condition, alcoholism can be treated. In a 2017 Recovery Brands survey, 70% of the respondents reported having gone for treatment because of an alcohol-related problem. Surprisingly, 52.87% of the participants agreed that they had sought treatment because of alcohol abuse.
With such high numbers, it is clear that the withdrawal symptoms emanating from trying to quit alcohol can be severe. Although treatment is available, you need to be able to stick to it.
In most cases, the process is usually accompanied by such side effects as excessive sweating, headache, depression, trembling, and nausea. Luckily, there are many options for treatment - including but not limited to support from medical professionals. These treatments can effectively control alcoholism and release you from the bondage of addiction.
Your doctor might also prescribe medications to reduce the withdrawal symptoms and to make it much easier for you to quit. Most of these medications include anticonvulsants and benzodiazepines.
Further, as you go for detoxification, you will have to be observed in case you develop such life-threatening side effects as delirium tremens. It is because of this reason why you are highly discouraged from trying to self-medicate.
After complete detoxification, you will be rehabilitated extensively. Through this process, you will develop a higher resistance to the common triggers that used to cause you to drink alcohol. With time, you will gradually turn to a more sober lifestyle.
Although the treatment for alcoholism tends to vary from one institution to another, all the methods used are designed to help you kick your addiction, abuse, and dependence on alcohol. The treatment might occur in several stages, including but not limited to:
This is designed to deal with any withdrawal symptoms you might experience as you try to get away from alcohol. Detoxification also gets rid of the toxins caused by alcohol inside your body.
During rehabilitation, you will get to learn new behaviors and skills so that you can deal with any potential triggers.
Counseling is designed to address all the emotional and social issues that might cause you to relapse.
- Support Groups
Part of your recovery will require that you participate in a support group such as the 12-step program, and Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Medical Treatment
Since alcoholism is related to a variety of health problems, you might also have to be medicated to deal with these issues.
To bring your addiction under control, your doctor might prescribe certain medications. These include Naltrexone (Vivitrol, ReVia), Acamprosate (Campral), and Disulfiram (Antabuse), among others.
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