Alcoholism Causes And Risk Factors

Based on a survey from October 2021, approximately 18.1 percent of Adults in England were drinking at higher risk levels at home. That’s almost 8 million people. In contrast, only 12.4 percent of adults were drinking at this level before the pandemic. It’s clear that more and more people are developing unhealthy habits of alcohol consumption.

But to understand how people with alcohol addiction can seek treatment, it’s important to know how it develops and perpetuates. Additionally, knowing about risk factors may help prevent some physical and psychological suffering. This article addresses the physical part of alcoholism, and assumes you feel you have a choice, should you feel you have lost the power of choice, nothing really applies, reach out to us for help.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also referred to as alcohol use disorder, is when an individual has unhealthy drinking habits and often drinks much more than the recommended amount of 14 units per week. Such heavy drinking causes them to develop a tolerance, which in turn leads to alcohol dependence.

This can lead to various health conditions like liver disease and consequences for a person’s relationships. Moreover, the person adopts a behavioural pattern that involves having trouble managing their alcohol consumption and remaining preoccupied with the thoughts of drinking.

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Consequences of alcohol abuse and alcoholism

Alcohol use disorders are associated with various health problems. Besides affecting the liver, which is responsible for breaking down substances, including alcohol, excessive alcohol use leads to problems like inflammation, high blood pressure, and low immunity.

The effects of alcohol aren’t limited to diseases that affect the body’s systems. In fact, people with AUD report that their drinking habits have a negative impact on their relationships and mental health as well.

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Alcoholism Risk Factors and Causes

A variety of causes and risk factors may lead to the development of alcohol use disorder. These factors can be environmental, social, or even genetic. Some theories even suggest that alcohol has a stronger effect on certain people, putting them at a higher risk of developing alcoholism.

Alcohol use disorder is the result of prolonged alcohol consumption in excessive amounts, which leads to changes in the brain, specifically in areas related to self-control, judgment, and reward systems. Additionally, a higher tolerance for alcohol triggers a dependence, which can lead to characteristic behaviours of alcoholism.

While there are no specific causes of alcoholism, different risk factors, which fall into internal and external categories, can interact and lead to the development of alcoholism.

Internal Factors

These include factors specific to the person, such as their drinking history, psychological health problems, and genetics, which predispose them to develop the disorder.

Mental Health problems and Trauma

Mental health factors, such as a diagnosis of anxious, depressive, or personality disorders like bipolar disorder, increases a person’s risk of developing alcoholism.

People who suffer from some sort of psychological or emotional trauma are likely to use alcohol as a way to self-medicate. This can lead to a higher likelihood of developing alcohol use disorder.

Genetics and Family History

People with a family history of alcohol use disorder may be genetically predisposed to develop alcoholism. In this category, it could be the result of parent-child transmission. Some studies also show that genetics have a bigger effect on a person’s risk of developing alcohol addiction than other factors.

Drinking at an early age

People who start drinking at an early age face a higher risk of developing alcohol-related issues when they grow up. This is a major concern as alcohol consumption among young people is on the rise. One 2016 survey shows that 23 percent of 15-year-olds reported getting drunk over the past month.

History of substance abuse

If a person has a history of substance abuse, research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows that they’re much more likely to develop a dependence on alcohol. Similarly, people with alcoholism are more likely to develop a drug addiction.

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    External Factors

    These include environmental factors and those related to culture and society. This risk factor category implies that a person’s surroundings predispose them to develop an alcohol use disorder.

    Family Environment

    Family environment plays a role in the development of alcoholism. If a child grows up observing their parents or family member consume alcohol in excessive amounts, they face a greater risk of developing similar drinking patterns.

    Cultural Factors

    Research shows that cultural factors play a role in shaping young people’s perceptions about alcohol use. The study found that most young people are introduced to the concept of having alcohol at family gatherings and associate it with enjoyment or fun. Various cultural influences, like film and the media, make ‘handling one’s liquor’ seem like a desirable trait, which pushes many people to develop a higher tolerance.

    Easy Access to Alcohol and Friend Groups

    Similarly, people with friends or partners who drink have easier access to alcohol. Moreover, research shows that peer pressure and peer groups can dictate a person’s risk of facing alcohol use-related problems.

    What Increases the Risk for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

    There is a link between excessive alcohol use and alcoholism. Mainly, a person’s risk for developing AUD depends on the amount of alcohol they consume, how often they drink, and how quickly they drink.

    So if someone begins drinking at an early age, they automatically spend more years of their life drinking than someone who starts drinking at the age of 18.

    Studies show that people who began drinking earlier are five times more likely to report having an AUD than someone who waits until they’re old enough to drink.

    How to reduce your risk of becoming alcohol dependent?

    You can effectively reduce your risk of becoming alcohol dependent by limiting your use of alcohol per week. Generally, adults should avoid having more than 10 drinks each week, which is about 14 units of alcohol. According to the NHS, this applies to both men and women.

    Avoid People and Situations That Trigger Alcohol Consumption

    The basic premise of preventing alcohol dependence is based on avoiding alcohol. You can do this by avoiding situations and people that encourage you to drink. So if your friends are inviting you to a club, respectfully decline the invitation.

    Don’t Have Alcoholic Beverages with Meals

    The same goes for when you’re eating together, and they offer to pour you a glass of wine. Just say ‘no’ and don’t give in to pressure. If you are going out, start replacing alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic ones when out with friends. Water is the best option as staying hydrated helps reduce the effects of alcohol consumption when you eventually do have a drink.

    If You Have To Drink, Drink Less

    If you’re going out and decide to have a drink, choose a beverage with low alcohol content. Moreover, sip on your drink slowly to curb your alcohol consumption. This way, you stay within the limit of one drink per day.


    Am I drinking too much alcohol?

    According to the CDC, excessive drinking includes heavy drinking and binge drinking. It also includes drinking by pregnant women and people who are not of legal age.

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    For men, heavy drinking means having 15 drinks or more each week. For women, this is 8 drinks. Meanwhile, binge drinking in men means having 5 drinks or more on a single occasion. For women, binge drinking is considered as having 4 drinks or more on one occasion.

    Binge drinking differs from heavy drinking because of the intention behind it. People with a habit of binging consume more alcoholic drinks so they can feel intoxicated within a short period.

    When should someone seek help?

    If a person’s drinking pattern causes them or their family constant distress and affects their daily functioning, they should seek help. Here’s how to tell if you need professional help.

    • You’re hiding your drinking patterns from others
    • You have to change your daily routine to adjust your drinking behaviour
    • Your family and friends are concerned about your drinking behaviour
    • You experience withdrawal symptoms when you don’t have a drink
    • Alcohol cravings affect your focus and ability to function
    • It feels hard to keep track of your alcohol consumption
    • You experience negative feelings when you can’t drink
    • Your daily function is impaired

    Rehab or just detox for alcohol consumption?

    Detox is usually a precursor to rehabilitative treatment for alcohol use disorders. It involves eliminating traces of alcohol from the bloodstream to prepare the body for treatment. Otherwise, a person could risk facing severe withdrawal symptoms that increase the likelihood of a relapse. It’s important that people struggling with alcohol addiction detox under medical supervision and shouldn’t stop drinking suddenly.

    Rehabilitation comes after your body no longer has traces of alcohol in its bloodstream. This allows you to focus on building a routine and embracing an alcohol-free lifestyle. Rehabilitation is important to work on coping skills, which help reduce the risk of a relapse.

    If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, speak to an experienced professional to know if detox, rehab, or a combination of both is the right option.

    Jason Sheirs
    Author / Jason Shiers / Dip. Psych MBACP
    Jason Shiers is a Certified Transformative Coach & Certified Psychotherapist who is a specialist in addiction, trauma and eating disorders. He has been working in the field of addiction for 25 years now.