What Are The Main Causes Of Alcoholism?

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Alcoholism is a debilitating illness that can affect all areas of your life. Many things can lead to alcoholism – with the main cause being excessive drinking. However, alcoholism rarely has just one causal factor – instead, there are a variety of different causes to consider.

In this post, we are going to delve deeper into some of the main causes of alcoholism, from genetics to stress and mental health. Read on to learn more about the main causes and risk factors for alcohol addiction.

Alcohol Use Disorder: What Is It?

Alcohol use disorder is characterised by the lack of control over drinking alcohol, whether it be how often you drink alcohol, how much alcohol you drink, or when you start or stop drinking. For example, you may crave more alcohol after drinking, or drink alcohol at inappropriate times.

Ultimately, it refers to the lack of control over your drinking habits. Often shortened to AUD, alcohol use disorder covers a range of alcohol problems – for example, binge drinking, alcohol dependence, and alcohol abuse. Alcohol dependence involves craving alcohol – and struggling to quit drinking.

AUD can vary in severity, being diagnosed as mild, moderate, or severe. Alcohol dependence is the more severe form of alcohol use disorder.

People who are dependent on alcohol will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking or significantly lower the number of units their body is used to.

It is a chronic and relapsing brain disorder that can affect all areas of your life – for example, your finances, relationships, family, and your mental and physical health.

It can cause numerous health problems and is a causal factor in more than 60 medical conditions.

Alcohol is also a known carcinogen, and The National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogensfound that alcohol consumption can hugely increase the risk of developing several types of cancer.

Alcohol use disorder affects millions of people around the world – and in England alone, there are over 700,000 people that are dependent on alcohol.

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Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is a form of alcohol use disorder – it is a dangerous drinking pattern that involves heavy drinking to the extent that it causes health complications.

Binge drinking is a form of alcohol abuse – and can have many negative effects in both the short term and the long term.

Abusing alcohol doesn’t always mean that you have an alcohol addiction, but those with alcohol dependence will frequently abuse alcohol.

If you’re unsure what counts as alcohol abuse, check the NHS guidelines on alcohol. It’s recommended that you drink a maximum of 14 units of alcohol per week, spread over at least three days.

14 units are roughly equivalent to six medium glasses of wine, six pints of beer, or six small measures of vodka and mixer.

Although no level of alcohol consumption is considered completely safe, sticking within the guidelines and drinking in moderation can prevent alcohol-related health risks as well as lower the chance of you becoming dependent on alcohol. Read on to learn more about alcoholism risk factors.

Risk Factors for Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction is often caused by a variety of factors and rarely has just one cause. Anybody can develop an addiction to alcohol or other substances – but certain factors can increase the risk of developing alcohol use disorders.

From social and psychological influences to environmental factors and genetics, here are some of the main risk factors for alcoholism.


If your parents have a problem with alcoholism, or you have a family history of alcohol abuse, then you may be more likely to develop alcoholism. Certain genes that increase the risk have been identified – ADH1B and ALDH2.

However, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), genes are responsible for around 50% of the risk of alcohol use disorder.

This suggests that some people have a genetic predisposition to developing alcoholism – but genes alone do not determine whether you will develop AUD – other factors account for the risk too.

Genetics only increase the risk, whereas your choices, experiences, and other environmental factors can determine whether you will or will not develop an alcohol addiction.

Environmental and Social Factors

Certain environmental influences and psychosocial factors can be huge risk factors for developing alcoholism.

Traumatic life experiences (e.g sexual abuse or bereavement) can increase the risk of developing a substance addiction. This is because some people turn to alcohol to relieve unpleasant emotions. However, doing this over time will only exacerbate the problem.

Social and cultural factors such as peer pressure and underage drinking may also contribute to the risk. Peer pressure is thought to increase engagement in binge drinking and alcohol abuse, which can ultimately lead to addiction.

Likewise, whether you’re a child or a young adult, if you grew up in an environment where excessive drinking is common, you may develop the belief that this behaviour is normal, and go on to do it yourself.

Children become aware of their parent’s drinking habits from an early age – and how often, how much, or where their parents drink seems to influence their own drinking behaviour. In fact, children of alcoholics are four times more likely to develop alcoholism.

Substance Abuse History

Addiction history is an important factor to consider. If you have a history of frequent alcohol consumption and heavy drinking, then you are more at risk of developing alcoholism.

Likewise, having a history of addiction, whether it be to alcohol, prescription drugs, illicit drugs, or nicotine, you may be more likely to develop alcohol use disorder.

This could be because the reasons that you turned to the substance remain the same – whether it be trauma, mental health, or other factors.

Your drinking history also plays a part in the risk of developing AUD, including your alcohol tolerance. If you’ve been drinking for a long time, you are much more likely to become an alcoholic. However, if you’ve not been drinking for a long time, then the risk is considered low.

Ultimately, the general rule of thumb is that the more alcohol you drink, the more likely you are to develop an alcohol problem.

Stress and Mental Health

Stress and your general mental health can affect your alcohol consumption. For example, people with post-traumatic stress disorder may be more likely to drink alcohol to relieve the negative symptoms associated with the illness.

Although stress is thought to increase a person’s alcohol consumption, there are many other complexities involved with developing AUD.

Early-life stressors (for example, child abuse), can have long-term consequences, and lead to changes in drinking behaviour. Likewise, traumatic events such as earthquakes or bereavement can also contribute to the risk.

Psychological factors such as anxiety and other mental health conditions can also play a part in the development of AUD.

For example, if you have a history of low mood or depression, you may be more likely to drink alcohol. However, this works both ways – excessive alcohol consumption can increase the chances of developing depression.

Another mental health condition linked to alcoholism is bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder and alcoholism frequently co-occur – however, the reasons for this aren’t completely clear at the moment, and more research is needed to determine the precise links.

Borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, and anxiety disorders have all been linked to alcoholism, with the illnesses co-occurring.

Having an alcohol problem and a mental health disorder is known as dual-diagnosis. If you have dual-diagnosis, it’s important that you receive the right treatment that not only treats your addiction but improves your mental health too.

Help for Alcohol Addiction

If you think that you have an alcohol problem, or you’re worried about your heavy drinking, then it’s important that you address the problem before it escalates, and speak to a certified addiction professional.

At Help4Addiction, we can find you the right treatment provider – whether you have a specific treatment centre or specific treatment provider in mind, or you need help choosing, we can give you professional treatment advice.

Some people prefer to attend rehab on an inpatient basis at a residential rehab centre. Residential rehab is where you reside in a facility for some time and receive treatment there.

Others, on the other hand, prefer outpatient rehab – where you live at home and travel to a clinic regularly to receive treatment. If you have a severe dependence on alcohol, it’s generally recommended that you undergo inpatient rehab,

Alcohol treatment can vary from clinic to clinic, but generally, alcohol rehab involves detoxification, addiction therapy, and secondary treatment.

If your alcohol addiction is severe, you may be best completing a medical detox. During medical detox, you may be offered detox medication to manage withdrawal symptoms.

Detoxification aims at dealing with physical addiction, whereas therapy focuses on the psychological, social, and behavioural aspects of alcohol use disorder.

Some common forms of therapy in alcohol rehab include CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), group therapy, or counselling. You may meet with psychologists to discuss your well-being, and learn valuable and effective coping skills.

Upon completing rehab, you won’t be left alone to return to your everyday life. Secondary care aims at providing you with ongoing support, ultimately aiming to prevent relapse.

It can feel scary returning to life after rehab, which is why so many people continue therapy or attend support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Click here to learn more about Alcoholics Anonymous.

At Help4Addiction, we can listen to your story, as well as your needs and preferences to find the right place for you to attend alcohol rehab to treat your alcohol use disorder. Contact our friendly team of addiction experts today to start your alcohol recovery journey, and start your sober life.

About Author

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.

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