What Are The Main Causes of Alcoholism

Cause & Effect: What Are the Main Causes of Alcoholism?

If you are reading this, you may be wondering why a loved one has a problem with alcohol. It is painful to see someone struggling with alcohol addiction, but it also makes you curious. How did this happen? What leads someone to become addicted? What causes alcoholism?

We will discuss the main causes of alcohol addiction, how to determine if someone has alcohol use disorder (more commonly known as alcoholism), and alcohol addiction treatment at East Coast Recovery.

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder/Alcoholism?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is an addiction to alcohol. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there are several questions used to determine if someone has AUD:

In the past year, have you:

  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure. Or sensed things that were not there?
  • Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over other aftereffects?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Wanted a drink so badly you couldn’t think of anything else?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unprotected sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?

If you answered “yes” to two or three of these, then you may have mild AUD; four to five could mean moderate AUD; and six or more could suggest severe AUD.

What Causes AUD?

There are several factors that may cause someone to become addicted to alcohol. Addiction happens when your brain and body become dependent on a substance, and the substances people can become addicted to range from alcohol to drugs such as cocaine or heroin.

The factors that can cause AUD can be divided into four categories: psychological, biological, social, and environmental. We will break each one of these categories down and discuss how the factors in each of them play a role in addiction to alcohol.

Psychological Factors of Alcohol Addiction

There are many psychological factors that can influence drinking. Everybody processes things differently, and some people may use alcohol as a way to cope or “self-medicate.”

Alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it depresses the activity in your brain. Many people drink to relax and feel better. However, this can lead to habitual and heavier drinking. While not all heavy drinkers have AUD, heavy drinking is a strong risk factor for developing AUD.

There are also certain mental health disorders that make people more susceptible to alcohol addiction. For example, someone with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is more likely to develop AUD, as are people with depression or anxiety disorders.

According to the American Psychological Association, traits like impulsiveness, low self-esteem, and a need for approval can also lead to excessive drinking.

On the flip side, the NIAAA reports AUD can cause certain symptoms of mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, psychosis, and antisocial behavior.

Biological Factors of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol use disorder could be a genetic disorder as AUD has been known to run in families. While there is no specific “gene” tied to AUD, genetic differences do affect the risk.

According to the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah, many lines of research show that genes influence substance use. Scientists estimate a person’s genetics account for 40-60% of their risk of developing an addiction.

Another factor is the way gene differences affect how people’s bodies metabolize (process) alcohol. The National Library of Medicine reports that some people of Asian or Jewish descent have skin flushing, nausea, headaches, and rapid heartbeat when they drink alcohol, which discourages drinking and leads to less AUD among those populations.

Biological and environmental factors overlap when it comes to family upbringing. Research has shown that the way people are raised can greatly affect how they drink because seeing close family members with a drinking problem can influence a child’s drinking habits as they age. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, children of people with AUD are four times as likely to have trouble with alcohol as opposed to people without a family history.

Social Factors of Alcohol Addiction

In the United States, alcohol is typically framed in a very positive light. The media, stories from family members, and even songs often romanticize alcohol use. This makes it look “cool” and leads to one of the leading causes of AUD: peer pressure.

Peer Pressure

Especially in adolescence, many may want to drink alcohol to be perceived as “cool” or even “normal.” According to NIAAA, when it comes to peer pressure and underage drinking, “Evidence suggests that the most reliable predictor of a youth’s drinking behavior is the drinking behavior of his or her friends.” There is much more risk associated with teens drinking as teens are less likely to drink responsibly and more likely to engage in risky behavior while under the influence.

College Drinking

Drinking in college is described as a rite of passage and part of the college experience. Some college students already come into college with established drinking habits, and those habits are made worse there, while others start drinking in college and develop a habit of drinking over time.

Regardless, many college students partake in drinking. According to a 2019 NIAAA survey, 53% of full-time college students ages 18-22 drank alcohol in the past month, while 33% engaged in binge drinking.

The first six weeks of freshman year is one of the most vulnerable times for college students. The academic and social expectations start to weigh heavily on them, and this weight can turn students to the bottle.

Binge Drinking

The most common form of excessive drinking, binge drinking means drinking more than average in a period of about two hours. For men, this would be having five or more drinks, and for women, four or more drinks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six adults reported binge drinking about four times per month.

Environmental Factors in College

The drinking culture of a college is dependent on the environment. While drinking is the norm in many colleges, the colleges where students are most likely to drink more are colleges with a strong Greek life or a strong athletics program. A study in 2018 showed that half of residential fraternity members had symptoms of AUD by age 35, and living in a sorority or fraternity during college is associated with binge drinking. Another study showed that athletes reported heavier alcohol use and more frequent binge drinking.

No matter what caused you or your loved one to develop AUD, East Coast Recovery is here to offer you alcohol addiction treatment.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment at East Coast Recovery

At East Coast Recovery, we know every client is different, so we have different forms of treatment that can be adjusted to fit your needs.

One treatment option is our partial hospitalization program (PHP). In this program, you would continue to live at home but receive therapy at the facility seven days a week. This is a great option for people who haven’t been as successful with lower levels of care or don’t have adequate resources for inpatient treatment.

Another option is our intensive outpatient program (IOP). This is great for clients who still have other duties to perform outside of treatment. In an IOP, clients will still live at home but attend therapy sessions at the facility for 10 hours a week.

Walk the Path With Us at East Coast Recovery

East Coast Recovery is dedicated to helping you or your loved one overcome alcohol addiction. Our mission is to help those in need of recovery and walk the path with clients beyond recovery. Located in Cohasset, Massachusetts, we offer our clients the best care possible. Call (617) 390-8349 to walk the path with us today.


What is the leading cause of alcoholism?

The leading cause of alcohol use disorder is someone’s family history. Children who are exposed to alcohol addiction are more likely to develop an alcohol addiction themselves, and AUD often runs in families, so it’s believed genetics play a role as well.

What are 3 possible risk factors for alcoholism?

Three possible risk factors for alcohol use disorder are having a parent with AUD, having a mental health disorder like anxiety or depression, and binge drinking on a regular basis (having more than four or five drinks in about two hours).

What are four reasons why someone would become an alcoholic?

The four most common reasons someone would develop alcohol use disorder are social reasons like peer pressure, biological reasons like a family history of AUD, psychological reasons like a mental health disorder, and environmental factors like being in a town with a high percentage of excessive alcohol use.

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