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Article Summary

Why Do People Abuse Alcohol?

Alcohol is one of the most addictive of intoxicating substances. Although not everyone who consumes it will necessarily become addicted, some people might be more susceptible to it.

However, you should note that there are differences between alcohol abuse and addiction. To this end, addiction refers to a physical and psychological dependence on the substance. This means that people who suffer from alcoholism (as alcohol addiction is commonly called) will build tolerance to it and continue drinking even as problems related to such abuse start becoming evident.

On the other hand, alcohol abusers might not be addicted to it. In most cases, an abuser is a heavy drinker who continues drinking irrespective of the consequences that befall them. However, they don't always drink consistently - in fact, some of them only drink once or twice a week.

When they drink, however, they tend to put themselves in risky situations. Others drink enough alcohol to cause problems like alcohol poisoning and drunk driving. Abusers might also eventually develop tolerance, dependence, and addiction.

Read on to learn more facts about alcoholism and find answers to the "why do people abuse alcohol?" question:

Understanding Alcoholism

Alcoholism - or alcohol addiction - can be defined as the chronic and constant consumption of alcohol and any beverage that contains it. Otherwise known as alcohol dependence syndrome, it usually carries the classic characteristic behavior of an alcoholic, including inability to control drinking that might lead to a loss of control and understanding of one's life and health.

Today, research shows that there are many different causes of alcoholism that might answer the "why do people abuse alcohol?" question. The leading factors that are typically associated with this condition include social and psychological factors as well as genetics.

Causes Of Alcoholism

That said, you should know that there is no universal cause of alcohol abuse and alcoholism. There are many different risk factors that all play a role in causing alcohol addiction. Most of these factors tend to interact differently in everyone, which is why some people are more susceptible to developing alcohol use disorders while others are not.

To this end, both external and internal factors might contribute to answering the "why do people abuse alcohol?" question. External factors include job status, education, age, cultural and social norms, environment, family, and religion while internal factors include drinking history, personal choice, personality, psychological conditions, and genetics.

With so many different factors at play in influencing the development of alcohol abuse and addiction, it can be virtually impossible to predict whether you will develop these problems or not.

While it is your personal choice to drink or not to, research now suggests that you may no longer be able to control your consumption of alcohol once you start drinking. Additionally, no single factor or group of factors can determine whether you will become an alcoholic or not.

Consider the following:

1. Genetics

Today, scientific evidence suggests that genetics play a role in the development of alcohol abuse problems. According to NIAAA (the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) now reports that it is possible for the condition to be transmitted in families and that the problem is not solely the result of one's environment and upbringing.

Other studies have come to associate alcoholism and alcohol use disorders with the DRD2 gene although these findings are yet to be verified. Most of these studies conclude that there is no single gene or factor that has an impact on the development of these disorders, rather a combination of several genes.

To this end, if your biological parents were alcoholics, it is more probable that you will also become one. This is irrespective of whether or not you were raised by alcoholics. Conversely, if your biological parents are non-alcoholics but you are raised by alcoholics, the risk that you will become one is quite minimal.

However, the genetics behind alcohol abuse are quite complex and scientists do not fully understand the situation. Although it is true that no single gene causes the condition, a number of genes may interact and raise your risk of developing alcoholism. Today, more than 51 genes are associated with this risk.

In particular, your genetics will have a direct bearing on how quickly and easily your alcoholism can be broken down, how you feel when you take alcohol, how much you seek risky behaviors, how likely you are to continue drinking or stop, as well as how severe your hangovers will be.

Research conducted over many years has also tried to create a link between alcoholism and genetic traits. Although most of these studies have come up with interesting findings, not all of them are proven at the moment.

However, it is now being suggested in the medical and addiction treatment industry that if you have one (or more) parents who is an alcoholic (or was an alcoholic), then it is highly likely that the genes you inherit from them will increase your risk of becoming an alcoholic.

2. Family History

In a recent study, two pairs of twins were adopted and raised by separate alcoholic parents. After the study, it was discovered that the risk of alcohol was higher in the pair with an alcoholic biological father compared to the twins with a non-alcoholic father.

The study also showed that the incidence of alcohol abuse was more likely to happen between identical twins (with the same genetic makeup) in comparison to fraternal twins (who only share 50 percent of their genes).

Additional scientific studies show that the children of alcoholics have a higher likelihood of developing problems with alcohol in comparison to other children in the general population.

These same children also run the risk of getting exposed to a variety of environmental factors that might further compound the potential that they will develop behavioral and emotional problems. In the same way, the prevalence of alcohol abuse among first degree relatives for these children is 3 to 4 times more in comparison to the general populace.

Still, you should note that not every child of an alcoholic eventually develops the problem. Additionally, some of the twins who participated in the research study discussed above and who had a family history of the condition did not show traces or symptoms of developing it. Therefore, from these research findings, it is clear that we cannot completely conclude that alcoholism and alcohol abuse are purely as a result of genetics.

This means that even individuals with long family histories of problems with alcohol might not become alcoholics. In most cases, the condition is a result of genetic and environmental factors, with genetics only increasing the risk without necessarily turning one into an alcoholic automatically.

However, even without genetics at play, your family life from birth through your teens to adulthood will still play a major role in the potential that you may develop alcoholism. Therefore, if you are raised in a family where people drink heavily and are encouraged to drink, you may eventually become an alcoholic. In such families, the normalization and glamorization of alcohol will make it potentially desirable, expected, and socially acceptable.

3. Psychology

A variety of psychological conditions may have an impact on the likelihood that you will abuse alcohol. For instance, if you suffer from social anxiety, bipolar disorder, and/or depression, you may have a higher risk of becoming an alcoholic - much more than someone who does not.

Research now shows that over 20% of depressed people as well as 40% of those with bipolar disorder abuse or become dependent on alcohol at one point or the other in their lives.

This is because your psychological problems might compel you to turn to alcohol if only to cope with your illness. For instance, people with schizophrenia now report that alcohol tends to quiet the voices in their head while many depressed individuals claim that drinking is effective at elevating their mood.

These problems are common among people who are yet to be diagnosed as well as those who dislike the unpleasant side effects of the medications prescribed for their conditions.

In the same way, if you have a psychological disorder, it might reduce your ability to perceive the reality/problem of your drinking and ignore warning signs and risks of alcohol abuse.

Today, many people actually drink to restore their spirits and improve their moods. However, consuming alcohol heavily might deplete the stores of dopamine and serotonin in your brain - two neurotransmitters charged with the responsibility of producing such feelings as happiness, a sense of calm, and euphoria. Still, you might continue drinking while believing that the alcohol will reinstate your sense of well-being.

That said, alcohol is like any other intoxicating substance in the sense that it may lead to psychological dependence. The substance can also affect your CNS (central nervous system) and act on certain nerve cells and neurons in the brain.

Drinking in the long term can also affect the neurotransmitters in your brain. Therefore, if you suddenly stop taking alcohol, your nervous system may get overexcited by these neurotransmitters and you will be agitated. This could cause high blood pressure and palpitations. In this event, you might continue drinking to ward off these withdrawal symptoms.

In the same way, if you binge drink to forget your problems and struggles, you may do so irresponsibly and eventually become tolerant to alcohol. This will only cause you to drink even more, which could cause dependence and - eventually - alcoholism.

In particular, depression is one of the main psychological factors that might be an answer to the "why do people abuse alcohol?" question. Research now shows that depression and alcoholism might coexist. This is rather obvious among the alcoholics who exhibit mood swings while drunk.

If you are an avid alcohol abuser or you are dependent on the substance and you decide to quit or find yourself in a situation where you can't drink, you may experience acute withdrawal, which could cause depression and anxiety.

These affective disorders might interact with alcohol and can either be genetically linked or exist due to their various effects. For instance, if you have depression or anxiety disorder, you might start drinking to cope with your condition. On the other hand, you might display the classic symptoms of anxiety and depression due to your drinking.

4. Personality

Individuals with certain personalities have been found to have a higher risk of abusing alcohol than others. For instance, if people who have a higher likelihood of disregarding or pursuing risk, it is also likely that you will drink heavily. This also applies to individuals who have fewer inhibitions.

Personality works quite similar to genetics in the sense that the interactions with alcohol are incredibly complex. To this end, if you always want to be the life of the party, you might turn into a heavy social drinker particularly once you start thinking that people will like you more when you are drunk. On the other hand, if you are extremely shy, you might drink heavily to reduce your discomfort and anxiety in a social situation.

Additionally, the expectations you have about drinking alcohol will also play a major role in determining your potential of abusing the substance. Therefore, if you have positive expectations, you may eventually develop alcoholism - with the likelihood being far greater than for individuals with negative expectations about the effects of drinking.

5. Personal Choice

Personal choice will also play a role in your risk of developing a problem with alcohol abuse. For instance, if you decide that you will never drink, it is highly unlikely that you will become an alcoholic. In the same way, in case you decide to avoid all social situations and events where drinking occurs, then your risk of abusing the substance will be significantly reduced.

However, if you start drinking, personal choice will have a considerably less powerful influence over your risk of becoming an alcoholic in comparison to these other factors that answer the "why do people abuse alcohol?" question.

6. Drinking History

You should also keep in mind that your drinking history will heavily influence your risk of developing alcoholism. Therefore, if you have a long history of taking alcohol, it is highly likely that you will become an alcoholic - much more so than people who have been drinking for a shorter duration.

On the other hand, if you have consumed a great deal of alcohol in the past, you have a higher risk of becoming dependent and spiraling your abuse than people who have taken less alcohol.

7. Environment

The environment where you work and live plays a major role in your risk of abusing alcohol. In some states and countries, for instance, it is significantly more expensive and harder to get alcohol. Due to the limited access, it follows that there is less likelihood of your turning into an alcoholic. Generally speaking, the more pervasive alcohol is in your environment, the higher the risk that you will start abusing the substance.

The wealth in your family will also play a major role in your risk and potential for alcohol abuse and addiction. If you are from a wealthy background, therefore, you have a higher risk of consuming alcohol heavily and developing a disorder with it.

Research now shows that 78% of people in a household with an annual income of $75000 take alcohol while only about 45% of those from households with an annual income of $30000 or less drink alcohol.

8. Religious Factors

Although anyone can start abusing alcohol and become dependent on it, those who adhere strictly to a religion that opposes drinking have a lower likelihood of becoming an alcoholic.

This is particularly true in places where religious influences social practices, low laws, and the general availability and ease of access of alcohol. These religions include Orthodox Judaism, Evangelical Protestantism, Mormonism, and Islam.

9. Society and Culture

Many cultural and social factors have a direct bearing on alcohol abuse. Generally speaking, if drinking is encouraged and/or acceptable in your culture or society, then you have a higher risk of taking alcohol and becoming dependent on and addicted to it.

The best example of this is college where students widely celebrate and embrace alcohol consumption - with some tolerating and encouraging more dangerous modes of use, such as binge drinking.

Cultural and social factors may also have a direct bearing and impact on treatment. This is because cultures that consider alcohol consumption to be shameful might cause some alcoholics to conceal their condition as well as avoid treatment because they are afraid of stigma that comes with being labeled as an alcoholic.

Either way, you can be sure that primary culture and subculture will also impact your risk of developing alcoholism. In particular, members of particular sub-cultures have a higher risk of drinking alcohol because other members encourage it actively and see the substance as a method of belonging.

10. Age

Your age will also influence the risk that you will abuse alcohol. Generally speaking, most people start drinking the substance in their late adolescent years or early 20s before they peak in their late to mid-20s and slowing down in the early 30s.

Therefore, people who are still in the mid-twenties have the highest likelihood of abusing alcohol as well as suffering alcohol use disorders. Still, you should keep in mind that the younger you are when you start drinking, the higher your risk of developing a problem with the substance later on in your life. This is particularly true for people who start drinking actively before they hit 15.

11. Education

Research shows that highly educated people have a higher likelihood of abusing alcohol than those who are not. In the US alone, 80 percent of all college students drink whereas only 52% of those without a college degree consume the substance.

In the same way, 61 percent of all college graduates who take alcohol are more likely to report that they drink within the past 24 hours in comparison to non-college graduates who drink.

Education may also impact your drinking habits. For instance, in the US College graduates tend to choose wine over beer while non-college graduates have a higher likelihood of preferring beer to wine.

12. Career

Research shows that certain professionals and jobs carry a higher risk of alcoholism and alcohol abuse in comparison to others. This is particularly true for high stress and high risk professions as well as those that are dominated by young adults. To give a good example, members of the military are more likely than civilians to develop an alcohol use disorder.

13. Society

All through human history, people have engaged in practices designed to alter their physical and psychological states. There are several reasons why people might want to change their emotional or mental state. In fact, it is highly likely that the first alcohol-induced experience might have been as a result of curiosity - a factor that still causes some people today to try their first drink. In modern times, everyone is bombarded with messages that promote the use of alcohol.

Additionally, some people today abuse alcohol to cope with and/or reduce stress. In these trying times, they take to drinking to alleviate stress. Others simply use it to self-medicate for other issues and problems, especially given the fact that alcohol may ease emotional and physical pain.

Apart from the above, most social gatherings serve alcohol and the substance is quickly becoming a normal part of what is offered at places like taverns and restaurants where people meet up.

In the same way, some people abuse alcohol because they believe it will instill a sense of social confidence in them and help them relax when they are in company. This is as a result of the disinhibition effects of alcohol.

Loneliness and isolation may also be the reason why you abuse alcohol. Therefore, if your support network is poor or non-existent, your mobility is reduced, you have limited access to adequate and reliable transportation, you might turn to alcohol - a situation that is particularly prevalent among the elderly and senior citizens.

That said, different people enjoy the various psychoactive effects of alcohol for many reasons. Drinking, for instance, may help you dissociate from reality and provide you with a sense of relief. On the other hand, you might abuse alcohol during a spiritual search or for a sense of adventure.

Last but not least, some people simply start using alcohol and continue abusing it as a result of peer pressure. In particular, many college students and adolescents tend to find themselves in environments where there is alcohol. Since they lack adequate refusal skills or self-confidence to handle the pressures in such a situation, they start experimenting and eventually develop an abuse problem.

Alcohol And The Brain

To better understand the different answers for the "why do people abuse alcohol?" question, it is imperative that you have a general idea about how this intoxicating and addictive substance works in the brain.

In effect, once it enters the bloodstream, alcohol will also affect the brain cells and nervous system. In the process, it may cause your brain to generate a larger than usual number of neurotransmitters - including but not limited to dopamine and serotonin.

When these neurotransmitters reach abnormal levels in your brain as a result of taking alcohol over the long term and you decide to quit, you might experience withdrawal symptoms.

In the same way, repeated and prolonged instances of drinking might cause your brain and body to develop dependency - which is now the medical term used to refer to alcoholism when it happens after a period of alcohol abuse.

The brain uses serotonin to enable such behavioral functions as sleeping and eating. Therefore, abusing alcohol in large amounts might lead to the production of this neurotransmitter in large amounts, which could impair normal behavior.

In the same way, you might start developing tolerance to alcohol after abusing it for a long time. This means that alcohol will take much longer to impair your behavior. Research now shows that alcoholics with a relatively high tolerance to their preferred drink tend to also have high levels of serotonin.

If you are already dependent on alcohol and you drink, the dopamine and serotonin released by your brain will tell you that you are more relaxed and happier. Eventually, your brain will get used to having alcohol in the system.

In case you go for a few hours or days without it, therefore, you may feel agitated, stressed, depressed, and nauseous. These symptoms show that you are undergoing withdrawal and the brain will be trying to tell you that it badly needs alcohol for your system to go back to normal. Another classic sign of withdrawal from alcoholic beverages is that you will have strong cravings for them.

Alcoholism And Relapse

Now that you have answers to the "why do people abuse alcohol?" question, it is time to find out a little about the rate of relapse for people who used to abuse alcohol and who might no longer be using it.

Today, research shows that 80 to 90% of the people who seek alternative treatments or go for rehab for alcohol abuse and addiction tend to relapse - even if they abstain for a couple of months or years. In most cases, relapsing is similar to the periodic flare-up of other chronic conditions, such as asthma or diabetes.

The factors might increase your risk of relapsing after you have resolved your alcohol abuse problem through detoxification, rehabilitation, and treatment include but are not limited to:

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • High stress
  • Inner temptation
  • Social pressure

Apart from the above, you might also relapse and start abusing alcohol again because of the following:

a) Emotional and Mental Stress

If your circumstances or relationships fail, you might turn to alcohol. This is because your brain - even after undergoing rehabilitation - may already have come to associate alcohol with the ability to naturally block out any emotional pain.

On the other hand, if you are bored of your daily routines, you might feel the need for freedom and a loss of your inhibitions. This could cause you to seek out alcohol, leading to a relapse.

If you try to quit drinking, your brain will always try to find a way to cause you to fail. This is because it might be so accustomed to having alcohol in the system that it will think you need the substance for proper balance.

Therefore, it may respond by causing depression, stress, and anxiety. All these are the emotional equivalents of the physical pain you might feel and they are caused by an imbalance in the neurotransmitters in your brain.

These negative moods and conditions can tempt you to relapse, in which case you may find yourself abusing alcohol again even if you stayed without a sip for a relatively long period.

b) Codependency

On the other hand, it might be difficult for you to stay sober especially because of the relationships you may have formed as a result of your drinking or over the course of your alcohol abuse. In this case, your drinking partner or former drinking friends may cause you to relapse.

c) Temptation

Similarly, if you find yourself in a social environment or situation where other people - including family members and friends - are drinking, you might feel the urge to start drinking again.

In these environments, you are likely to experience a variety of emotions, some of which can cause you to want to start drinking like you used to. Additionally, some of the people present might convince or encourage you to have a single glass of wine or a beer. However, if you give in, you will restart the way down the slippery slope of alcohol abuse and addiction you fought so hard to overcome.


Overall, understanding the answers to the "why do people abuse alcohol?" question is an important first step to combating the problem. By knowing some of the reasons you might start drinking in the first place, you might have the means to ensure that you never get started - effectively preventing what would have been a serious alcohol abuse problem. However, if you are already struggling with alcohol abuse, the best solution is to undergo detoxification, treatment, and rehabilitation where you will learn more about the main reasons why you drink as well as effective strategies to combat these reasons and causes.








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