What causes alcoholism? Is it a genetic predisposition? Or is it psychological factors? Learn more about alcohol addiction causes.

What Is Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction in the United States is on the rise. It is estimated that twenty-three million Americans are addicted to alcohol, with nearly 6,000 people turning to alcohol addiction treatment centers for help each day. Studies show there is no single cause for alcohol addiction but a range of risk factors, including biological factors and peer pressure. Read on to learn the most common alcohol addiction causes that you need to know about.

Alcohol addiction is defined as “a chronic relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive alcohol use despite harmful consequences.” Alcohol addiction, also known as “alcohol use disorder,” can affect aspects of life such as interpersonal relationships, family life, mental health, and employment.


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Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol can alter the brain’s chemistry, so a person with an alcohol addiction may not be able to control their actions. Individuals with alcoholism often drink excessively or binge drink regularly. Continued drinking leads to deteriorating physical and mental health, family problems, financial difficulties, and legal problems. Alcohol addiction can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, or ethnicity.

Some symptoms that may indicate alcohol addiction include:

The important thing to know about alcoholism is that it is not just a physical addiction. It also has psychological effects on an individual’s mental state and can lead to other mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

What Are the Causes of Alcohol Addiction?

Here are some of the most common alcoholism causes that make a person more likely to become addicted:

Biological Factors

According to scientific evidence, alcoholism is a complex genetic disease that runs in families. Studies suggest that around 45-65% of the liability is due to genetic factors. This number was confirmed by several adoption studies that showed that alcoholism in adopted children correlates more strongly with the children’s biological parents than their adoptive parents. Some of the genes that are known to contribute to the risk for alcoholism are ADH1B and ALDH2.1

Even though biological factors play a vital part in the development of alcohol addiction, other alcoholism causes, such as environmental and social factors, greatly influence the outcome.

Stressful Environments

Stressful environments are common alcohol addiction causes, such as jobs with high levels of conflict and long hours, which can sometimes lead people to turn to alcohol. Other stressful environments include unhappy homes, divorce, or the death of a loved one. These environments may also make alcoholics unable to break the habit of drinking.

Social Factors

Social factors are also at play when it comes to developing alcohol addiction. College is the most common place where alcohol addiction is highly encouraged and embraced. Colleges are notorious for their parties in which binge drinking is glorified. According to a national survey, 33% of college students engaged in binge drinking in the past month.2

Psychological Factors

People with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders are more likely to develop alcohol addiction. According to studies, around one-third of people dealing with major depression also suffer from alcohol disorders.3 Around 20% of people with a social anxiety disorder also deal with alcohol addiction.4

People dealing with mental health issues turn to alcohol use to alleviate the negative symptoms of their illness. For example, people with social anxiety need alcohol to feel comfortable in social situations. People suffering from depression turn to alcohol to temporarily reduce their anxiety and lower inhibitions.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is commonly associated with teens in part due to the brain structure of adolescents. More precisely, the areas of the brain that respond to reward are more easily aroused during adolescence. Consequently, teens are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, including binge drinking. Adults can also engage in heavy drinking due to peer pressure because, similarly to teens, they also worry about what others think of them.

Educational Factors

According to research, 80% of college students drink alcohol, and almost 50% report binge drinking in the past two weeks.5 High-school graduation and college graduation are associated with increased drinking odds among older Caucasians. Among older African Americans, high-school graduation, but not college graduation, is associated with higher odds of drinking.6


Researchers have found a connection between early-childhood trauma and mental health problems, including alcohol dependence. People who experience trauma early in their lives may start abusing alcohol to cope with their trauma-related symptoms.7

Lack of Family Supervision

Family supervision is among the most critical environmental influences on alcohol use during adolescence. More parental supervision is associated with less alcohol use, while inadequate supervision has been proven to predict alcohol use disorders among adolescents.8

Drinking History Factors

Studies have found that children whose parents suffered from alcohol use disorders are five times more likely to develop alcohol-related problems than children with nonalcohol-dependent parents. Moreover, studies have also noticed a tendency for people with alcohol use problems to marry individuals who also have an alcohol addiction, also called assortative mating.9

Religious Factors

Across different religions, people who see their religion as promoting abstinence are less likely to drink alcohol. Around 51% of US adults who attend religion services at least once a month reported drinking alcohol in the past thirty days.

Only 13% of monthly churchgoers engaged in recent binge drinking. To compare, 76% of agnostics reported drinking alcohol in the past thirty days, and 33% engaged in binge drinking.10

Known Specific Risk Factors

Here are some known alcoholism risk factors:

How Do Different Risk Factors Affect Treatment and Relapse?

Alcohol Addiction Causes

Treatment for alcohol addiction is always possible, regardless of how many risk factors you or your loved one is exposed to. Even if you are genetically prone to alcohol addiction, you can still obtain long-term sobriety with proper treatment and support.

The most essential thing is to know your alcoholism risk factors, how they influence your relapse, and how you can attempt to avoid one. Knowing these aspects will help you understand how alcohol addiction affects the body and mind. With understanding comes empowerment, which allows you to take control of your life. Understanding your risk factors will allow you to take the necessary steps to recover from this addiction.

Many treatment options are available for alcohol addiction, including medical detox, inpatient programs, and outpatient programs. Medical detox can be critical in some scenarios, especially if you are experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms.

How Can You Prevent Alcoholism?

Avoid Binge Drinking
To avoid binge drinking, try practicing moderation by limiting yourself to only one glass of wine or beer per day, and practice sobriety on days where you know you will be under pressure to drink from peers or supervisors.
Know Your Drinking Limits
Alcohol is a depressant, which lowers your inhibitions and slows down your cognition. When you drink alcohol, you might not feel as responsible or in control as you usually do. That is why it is essential to know how much is too much.
The CDC recommends that women drink no more than one drink per day and men drink no more than two drinks per day. You should stick with the recommended limits even if it does not seem like enough if you have a history of alcohol abuse, have been addicted to drugs before, or have a family history of alcoholism.
Surround Yourself with Non-drinkers

Alcoholics often surround themselves with friends and family members who drink heavily to keep themselves in denial. Surrounding yourself with non-drinkers may help you identify the signs of alcoholism or get an honest opinion when you need help. Stay away from social media groups or family members who try to convince you that your alcohol intake is normal or acceptable.

Avoid Triggers that Make You Want to Drink
It is important to know what triggers your urge to drink, which will make it easier to avoid these triggers in the future and help you stay sober. Think about what usually makes you want to drink. Is it when you are stressed? Sad? Lonely?
Sometimes people do not even realize they are addicted until they start feeling like they need to drink after being around a certain person, going through a certain situation, or experiencing a certain emotion. If this starts happening, it could be a sign of alcoholism. Learning how to avoid triggers will keep your drinking under control and keep you safe from harm.

How Is Alcoholism Treated?

Treatment for alcohol addiction

Detoxification or Withdrawal

Detoxification therapy aims to relieve withdrawal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, tremors, and seizures to restore balance in the body. It can range from several days to several weeks, depending on what type of treatment is needed. Alcohol detoxification can be done while remaining in a hospital or through outpatient care at home or other locations.

Inpatient Programs

One of the most common treatments for alcohol abuse is inpatient programs. Residential treatment centers are one of the most effective ways to get sober and stay sober. They offer twenty-four-hour supervision and support from professionals specializing in treating people battling alcoholism. Patients live on-site and attend a range of therapies, including one-on-one therapy sessions, group sessions, family counseling, and alternative therapies such as yoga and meditation.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies are a type of treatment that is used to help individuals recognize the effects of their drinking and take the necessary steps to address their alcohol problems. These types of treatments can be done one-on-one with a therapist or with group sessions. They also focus on teaching individuals how to change their behaviors to be more positive and happier in life.

Social Support

Social support affects the likelihood of successful alcohol treatment outcomes. Drinking alcohol is a coping mechanism for many people, and social support can act as a buffer to help prevent relapse after treatment. Some of the ways you can use social support to deal with alcohol use are through online communities and peer-to-peer support groups.