Alcoholism Causes & Risk Factors
In many cases, identifying a singular cause for a person's addiction isn't possible. It's often a collection of events, factors, and behaviors.
Top of page
addiction is a progressive condition, meaning that a physical addiction to the
alcohol develops over time. Alcohol can eventually disrupt the balance of
chemicals in the brain that affect judgment, pleasure, and the ability to
control behavior. According to the Mayo Clinic, when this balance is disrupted,
people often drink to restore good feelings or to forget negative feelings and
many cases, identifying a singular cause for a person’s addiction isn’t
possible. It’s often a collection of events, factors, and behaviors. Addressing
the causes and risk factors may make treatment for alcohol addiction more
What Risk Factors are Associated with Alcohol
combination of risk factors may be at play when a person develops a drinking
problem. This can include family history, age, or even your circle of friends.
However, not every risk factor is associated with an actual alcohol addiction
problem. For example, many people face depression and never become an
alcoholic. For other people, one issue may be so pervasive, it alone is the
cause of an addiction.
risk factors include:
- A history of drinking. Drinking alcohol
on a regular basis and over an extended period of time can create physical dependence and addiction.
- Age. People who begin drinking at an early age
have an increased risk of alcohol abuse or dependence.
- Family history. Genetic factors may make people more
susceptible to alcohol dependence. Having a parent who is or was addicted to
alcohol increases your likelihood of becoming dependent on alcohol. However,
having a family history of alcoholism does not mean you will have the same
problem eventually. In that same light, the absence of a family history of
alcohol dependence does not always protect you from developing an addiction
later in life.
- Mental health problems. People with a
mental health disorder, such as depression, may begin drinking heavily in order
to cope with mental or emotional distress.
- Psychological factors. Some people with
alcohol dependence may begin drinking to cope with emotional problems, such as
low self-esteem, anxiety, or a need to feel a part of a group.
- Sex. Men are more likely than women to suffer
from alcoholism. However, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), women who are dependent on alcohol are more
sensitive to the effects of alcohol and may develop medical complications
sooner and more dramatically, even if they consume less alcohol than men. (APA, 2012)
- Social influences. Influences from friends, a partner,
or even the media may put you at an increased risk of becoming dependent on
a person is trapped in a cycle of abusive drinking, whether it began as a way
of coping with psychological problems or just as a social outlet, addiction has
a way of perpetuating other problems. People who are dependent on alcohol may
develop mental health problems or feel as if they must continue drinking in
order to fit in with a group of friends. People who abuse alcohol are also more
likely to abuse other substances. (Mayo
What Complications Can Alcohol Addiction Cause?
dependence affects all areas of your life and health. That includes:
or family relationship problems
inhibitions and poor judgment, which can lead to dangerous situations or
which are often characterized by nausea, headaches, fatigue, and sensitivity to
or forgetting events that occurred while you were drinking
such as car wrecks or falling
efficiency and poor performance in work, school, or business
dependence can affect physical health as well. Alcohol is a depressant. When people
consume alcohol, their central nervous system response is slowed, and they’re
not able to react as quickly or efficiently as they could when sober. Alcohol
also lowers inhibitions, affects emotions, and impairs judgment. As more alcohol
is consumed, it begins to affect vital parts of the brain, which in turn interferes
with speech and muscle coordination. This can lead to dangerous complications,
such as coma, alcohol poisoning, or even death.
of the body affected by alcoholism include:
- Digestive system. Alcohol can cause inflammation
throughout the body. Specifically, the lining of the stomach can become
inflamed and prevent the absorption of vitamins and nutrients. Excessive
alcohol intake can also damage the pancreas, which produces hormones that
regulate metabolism and help digest fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
- Heart. Alcohol dependence can increase the
likelihood that a person will develop high blood pressure, heart failure, and
- Liver. Long-term excessive alcohol consumption
can scar the liver and reduce its capacity to release glucose, which can
increase the risk of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Liver damage can lead to
a variety of health complications, including bleeding disorders, coma, reduced
brain functioning, and liver failure.
- Sexual organs. Men who are dependent on alcohol are more
likely to experience erectile dysfunction. Women may experience irregular
menstruation and have more difficulties becoming pregnant.
- Eyes. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can
weaken and paralyze eye muscles.
- Nervous system. People with an addiction to alcohol may
experience numbness and tingling in the hands or feet. Alcohol abuse can also
cause erratic thinking, dementia, and short-term memory loss.
- Bones. Alcohol increases the risk for osteoporosis
dependence also increases the risk for:
- Birth defects. Women who drink while they are pregnant
put their fetus at risk for fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). FAS can increase your
child’s risk for birth defects, such as abnormal facial features, hearing and
vision problems, malformation of organs, and growth deficits.
- Cancer. Studies show that people who abuse alcohol
regularly have an increased risk of mouth, throat, liver, colon, and breast
Medically Reviewed by:
George Krucik, MD
Sep 26, 2012
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.