Are there causes of alcoholism other than the constant drinking itself?
If you haven’t read anything about alcoholism, it is reasonable to assume that you think, just like many other people think, the only cause for alcoholism is the steady drinking over time, thus alcoholics can only blame their own irresponsible behavior for their situation right?
When it comes to alcoholism there are many other factors that come into play, such as biology, genetics, culture, and even gender.
Let’s begin exploring the causes of alcoholism:
it is very likely that some people are genetically pre-disposed to an alcohol addiction. People with a family history of alcoholism are more likely to begin drinking before the age of 20 and to become alcoholic.
One study showed there is a three- to four- fold prevalence of alcohol dependence among first-degree relatives to an alcoholic when compared to people of the general population.
Similarly, recent twin-family studies suggest that there is an increased likelihood of alcohol dependence if parents or other family members are alcoholics.
Although genetics play a significant role in alcoholism, the exact genetic variations and corresponding inherited traits are yet to be discovered.
Currently, researchers are working to discover the actual genes that put people at risk for alcoholism.
Inherited traits that may indicate a possible but unproven association with alcoholism include:
Amygdala which plays a primary role in the processing and memory of emotional reactions in the brain.
Serotonin – a brain chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) that affects feelings, emotions and mood – such as elation, depression, aggression, impulsive behavior and the like.
Dopamine – another neurotransmitter which is associated with alcoholism. Some are born with more receptive dopamine receptors and hence are more likely to develop alcoholism as alcohol consumption makes the body release dopamine (a substance not disimilar in function to opiates
Mental and Emotional Stress:
Mental and emotional stress are part of the causes of alcoholism.
One of the better known, short term effect, alcohol has is changing moods, this alone causes people to mistakenly think alcohol blocks out emotional pain.
The potential alcoholics use the drink as a relief in times of intensive emotional stress such as: break-ups, job dismissal and other personal issues.
When the alcoholic tries to quit drinking, the brain seeks to restore what it perceives to be its equilibrium.
If the drinking period lasted long enough alcohol withdrawal symptoms start to appear, making it harder for the person to stop drinking and leading him deeper into the disease.
Drinking at an early age such as 14 dramatically increases the chances of developing alcoholism.
A survey of over 40,000 adults indicated that among those who began drinking before age 14, nearly half had become alcoholic dependent by the age of 21.
In contrast, only 9% of people who began drinking after the age of 21 developed alcoholism. Furthermore, the earlier a person begins drinking, the greater the risk developing alcoholism.
As for the elderly drinkers, there is a significance risk as well. People who maintain the same drinking patterns as they age can easily develop alcohol dependency without realizing it.
As a person gets old it takes fewer drinks to become intoxicated, and older organs can be damaged by smaller amounts of alcohol than those of younger people.
Also, due to their age, family relatives, friends and even doctors may overlook the alcoholism symptoms – mistakenly attributing them to the normal effects of the aging process. Thus, making it hard to detect the drinking problem at the first stages and cure it before a serious damage is done.
Male chances of developing alcohol dependence at some point in their lives are about twice as much of women.
On the other hand, women progress rapidly from onset of drinking through later stages of alcoholism.
Not only that, women are more vulnerable than men to many of the long-term consequences of alcoholism (such as: brain cell damage, liver cirrhosis and hepatitis).
One of the least known causes of alcoholism is alcohol perception.
Studies have shown that people who expect positive results from drinking such as: a better mood or social ease – are more likely than other drinkers to develop alcohol problems.
Conversely, those who have negative expectations – queasiness, dizziness or fatigue – are less likely to develop alcohol problems.
History of Abuse:
Individuals who suffered from abuse as children have a greater risk for developing alcoholism later in life.
According to an article in the New York Times:
“In one study, 72% of women and 27% of men with substance abuse disorders reported physical or sexual abuse or both. They also had worse response to treatment than those without such a history.”
Alcoholism cuts across all social and economic groups, involves both sexes, and occurs at all stages of the life cycle, beginning as early as elementary school.
After reading all the causes of alcoholism it’s important to remember that every individual is affected by alcohol differently. While it’s true that over time, the alcoholism symptoms (physical, mental, social, etc.) are common between alcoholics, no two people will respond to alcohol consumption exactly the same way.