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The 10 Most Common Causes of Alcoholism 

Since there isn’t one exact cause of alcoholism, experts instead identify “risk factors” as potentials for development. Professionals believe that these factors may play a role in the development of alcohol use disorders as they have been evident in the lives of many individuals who suffer from alcohol dependence and addiction. 

Risk factors can be environmental, biological, and psychological. While the presence of these factors does not guarantee that a person will develop an alcohol use disorder, it’s important to be aware of the circumstances and components that can lead to alcoholism in some cases. 

1. Family History

Family history plays a large part in what causes alcoholism. You’re more likely to develop an addiction if a parent or relative has dealt with alcohol use disorder. Although there isn’t one true gene that causes alcoholism, many scientists believe that several genes are responsible for about half the risk of developing it. People with these genes are also more likely to misuse alcohol if they also deal with social and psychological influences related to addiction. 

A history of alcoholism among your relatives is both a biological and genetic factor, but it can also be environmental. Alcoholism doesn’t necessarily have to run in your family for you to become addicted. Simply being around family members who drink frequently can cause you to start doing the same. They can glamorize heavy drinking and make it seem acceptable, so you’ll feel better about doing it as well. 

2. Drinking from an Early Age

The earlier you start to drink, the more likely you are to develop a dependence on alcohol, especially if you’re under 15 years old. You might become used to drinking when you start young. 

This rings true for young adults who binge drink in high school and college. The general period of alcohol use begins in the late teens, then peaks in the 20s and finally slows down in the early 30s. Drinking from an early age can cause long-term problems that can even go into your 40s and 50s. 

While you can begin misusing alcohol no matter how old you are, starting to drink at a young age will increase your chances of developing alcoholism.  

To prevent alcoholism from beginning at an early age, parents should encourage alcohol prevention at this time. They need to teach their children about the dangers of heavy drinking at a young age so they can avoid developing bad habits in the future. 

3. Mental Health Disorders

Having schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or bipolar disorder can be frustrating and difficult. People with mental health disorders tend to drink to mitigate their symptoms and feel better. Even if alcohol temporarily eases symptoms of depression and anxiety, drinking frequently can lead to a high tolerance and, eventually, alcoholism. On top of that, alcohol can actually make mental health symptoms worse at times.  

People with mental health disorders may also feel too ashamed to seek help. They might feel that turning to alcohol is easier since they fear others may judge them for their mental illness.  

About one-third of people with a mental health disorder are also struggling with alcoholism. People with both a mental health disorder and alcoholism end up having what’s known as co-occurring disorders. These have serious side effects that can inflict long-term physical and psychological damage on your body. To effectively treat both of them, licensed clinicians must look at each disorder simultaneously. 

4. Stressful Environments

Stress at work or at home can drive people to drink. People who work long hours and have high-demand careers like doctors, nurses, lawyers and construction workers are more likely to develop alcoholism as they drink to keep stress at bay. Studies show that stressed men are 1.5 more likely to binge drink than women. Those recovering from alcoholism might also find stress to be an emotional trigger and end up relapsing.  

Drinking away stress is part of what causes alcoholism. Finding a healthier way to manage your stress is key to avoiding dependence.  

5. Taking Alcohol with Medication

Mixing prescription drugs with alcohol is a common practice among individuals struggling with substance use disorder. Alcohol can mess with medication and people can become addicted to the pleasurable effects caused by drinking and prescription drugs. 

Unfortunately, mixing prescription drugs and alcohol can lead to a variety of health problems, including: 

  • Blood pressure change 
  • Heart damage 
  • Dizziness 
  • Nausea 
  • Changes in behaviors, emotions or mental state 

It can also lead to loss of coordination, which leads to accidents. There is also a high risk of overdose when combining alcohol with prescription drugs. Make sure to call 911 if you ever witness this happening to someone. 

6. Peer Pressure

Kids in high school and college feel the need to be “cool,” accepted and like they’re in on the fun. Heavy drinking has long been considered an acceptable practice among teens and young adults ages 18 to 34, and keeping that drinking going past this age is a factor in what causes alcoholism.   

Peer pressure doesn’t just happen at a young age, either. Drinking has been a socially acceptable practice all over the world for many years, and adults can feel pressure to be part of this. Media also glorifies drinking among people of all ages. 

7. Frequent Alcohol Consumption Over Time

What causes alcoholism can be as simple as drinking too much over time. Building up a tolerance to alcohol requires you to drink more and more to get the same feeling. When you start drinking too much over time, you’re at a higher risk of developing alcoholism. This can start with binge drinking as a teenager or young adult.  

8. Trauma

Childhood abuse and domestic or sexual abuse are likely to mentally scar anyone, and these are high-risk factors for alcohol use disorder. When you don’t properly address past abuse in therapy, you might turn to heavy drinking to temporarily feel better about your situation. This is a dangerous practice, as it turns into a destructive cycle.  

To better deal with trauma and move past it, talk to a therapist. He or she will talk to you about how these incidents have affected you long-term, and you’ll learn how to cope with trauma without turning to alcohol. 

9. Self-Medicating: Drinking to Cope

If you’ve lost a loved one, gotten divorced or got fired from your job, you’re likely dealing with grief, pain and loss. These are all emotions that can cause people to drink. For the time being, alcohol might make you feel joyful and carefree, but if you develop alcoholism, your grief and pain will get worse.  

People tend to self-medicate because it’s convenient and less expensive than going to a doctor or psychologist. In addition, the internet has become a widely available resource for information. People visit websites like WebMD to research their symptoms, but this is not how they should go about a self-diagnosis.  

Self-medicating also happens when people are too scared to confront their feelings and talk to someone about them. This is part of what causes alcoholism. 

10. Lack of Family Supervision

Someone who didn’t have present parents in their childhood or had a poor family foundation is a prime candidate for alcoholism. A lack of support can lead to abandonment issues in children, and they may turn to alcohol for comfort. 

Preventing Alcoholism

When thinking about what causes alcoholism, you have to observe how people feel before they drink. People will try to drink away their problems and negative feelings, but this will only temporarily ease their pain. If you find that you’re feeling down, take a healthier route to feel better. Try meditating, talking to a friend, watching a movie, going for a walk or journaling. 

If you have a mental health disorder, it’s also tempting to use alcohol to mask your symptoms. The proper course of treatment is to speak with a therapist and determine if medication will help you tackle life’s daily challenges. Therapy can also help you sort out your feelings and assist you in steering your life in a positive direction. It can help you address what causes alcoholism in your life. 

Do you still want to hang out with your friends who drink, but don’t want to partake? Offer to be the designated driver the next time you’re at a party. 

There are some negative situations in life that you can’t prevent, like having a dysfunctional family, being emotionally or sexually abused by a family member, or growing up with a relative who had alcoholism. However, you can control how you react to these situations, and there is help if you seek it. 

Find Treatment for Alcoholism at Sana Lake Recovery Center

You don’t have to struggle with your alcoholism by yourself. Sana Lake addiction rehab in St. Louis is filled with people who know exactly what you’re going through. We’ll help you figure out what caused your alcoholism and get you back on track to a healthier life. Contact Sana Lake today for a free consultation, and learn how we can help you. 

Haeny, A. M., Gueorguieva, R., Morean, M. E., Krishnan-Sarin, S., DeMartini, K. S., Pearlson, G. D., Anticevic, A., & Krystal, J. H. (2020). The Association of Impulsivity and Family History of Alcohol Use Disorder on Alcohol Use and Consequences. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 44(1), 159-167. 

Aiken, A., Clare, P. J., Wadolowski, M., Hutchinson, D., Najman, J. M., Slade, T., Bruno, R., McBride, N., Kypri, K., & Mattick, R. P. (2018). Age of Alcohol Initiation and Progression to Binge Drinking in Adolescence: A Prospective Cohort Study. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 42(1), 100-110. 

Ries, Richard K. MD. Co-occurring Alcohol Use and Mental Disorders. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology 26(6):p S30-S36, December 2006. | DOI: 10.1097/ 

Brady, K. T., & Sonne, S. C. (1999). The Role of Stress in Alcohol Use, Alcoholism Treatment, and Relapse. Alcohol Research & Health, 23(4), 263-271. 

Borsari, B., & Carey, K. B. (2001) Peer influences on college drinking: A review of the research. Journal of Substance Abuse, 13, 391-424. 

Picture of Ashley Murry LCSW
Ashley Murry LCSW
Ashley Murry, LCSW, is the Chief Clinical Officer at Sana Lake Recovery. She oversees clinical operations, ensuring effective treatment strategies and compliance. Before this, she was Program Director at Gateway Foundation, managing care programs and collaborating with state departments. Ashley has also served as Director of Clinical Services at Treatment Management Company, improving staff retention and clinical standards. She holds a Master's in Social Work from the University of South Florida and a Bachelor's in Social Work from Saint Leo University. She is licensed in Florida, Arizona and Missouri.
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