Alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States and an astonishing 66% of the U.S. population consumes alcohol. The root of alcoholism can be attributed to varying factors for each individual suffering from addiction. Potential causes include: drinking consistently over an extended period of time resulting in chemical dependence, beginning to drink at a young age, gender (men are more likely to develop a dependency on alcohol), depression or anxiety, social pressures, and family history.
Overindulging in alcohol for a prolonged period of time results in an increased tolerance, which means an individual will need an increased amount of alcohol to achieve the desired effect. A general guideline for what is considered excessive alcohol use is more than 15 drinks per week for men or 8 drinks per week for women, more than 5 drinks per day for men or 4 drinks for women, or any use of alcohol that disrupts a person’s life or routines. In addition, withdrawal symptoms may result if the individual attempts to reduce their alcohol intake. Withdrawal symptoms usually begin within 5-10 hours after the last drink. Symptoms of withdrawal include nervousness, depression, loss of appetite, rapid heart rate, and insomnia. These physical symptoms are a sign of chemical dependency and alcohol addiction.
Early drinking onset or drinking at a young age makes an individual more susceptible to being injured later in life under the influence of alcohol. Studies have demonstrated that people who begin drinking before the age of 14 are three times more likely than those who begin drinking after age 21 to be injured while drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that early drinking onset is associated with increased lifetime risk for the alcohol dependence or abuse.
It has been long established that more men than women are alcoholics – in the United States the risk of men developing alcohol use disorders is nearly twice as high in women. A study recently published in Biological Psychiatry this year reveals a possible explanation. The study found that the release of dopamine, which is released in the brain after alcohol consumption, in the male participants was statistically greater than the release of dopamine in the female participants. The dopamine leads people to associate alcohol with pleasure and positive rewards, which prompts them to drink more. However, as drinking alcohol becomes a habit, the level of dopamine released by the brain decreases.
People who suffer from depression or anxiety may turn to alcohol in hopes of alleviating their symptoms. Although alcohol can temporarily produce a pleasant or relaxed state of mind, alcohol addiction can actually contribute to depression. The pleasant side effects of alcohol are soon replaced by drowsiness and irritability. Similar to depression, alcohol can contribute to anxiety. Not only are people with high levels of anxiety at an increased risk of becoming an alcoholic, withdrawal from alcohol can cause extreme anxiety. Alcohol rehab is recommended for treating these emotional disorders as well.
Social pressures and influences encourage alcoholism. Since alcohol is legal, a person may find themselves bombarded by advertisements and enticing drink menus and specials when they go out to eat. Since consuming alcohol is considered to be a ‘normal’ behavior, it is easier for people to ignore symptoms of alcohol abuse. An individual may also feel pressured to drink from their teenage years to mature adulthood. As a teen or college student it may be enticing to drink with classmates. But to further one’s career it may be expected to go on after-work outings to bars with co-workers. Special occasions such as birthday parties and weddings typically present an inherent expectation that everyone will drink. An important job for an alcohol rehab center is to teach people how to face these social drinking situations and maintain control.
There is a direct correlation between family history and alcoholism. According to the UCSF Family Alcoholism Study, 20-25% of sons and brothers of alcoholics become alcoholics and 5% of daughters and sisters of alcoholics become alcoholics. In a family study review, it was concluded that alcoholics were six times more likely than non-alcoholics to have a family history of alcoholism. The theories surrounding the genetic aspect of alcoholism include a linking of chromosomes to alcohol dependency and a genetic market (dopamine D2 receptor) that occurs more often in alcoholics.
Since an addiction to alcohol can make the need for a drink as compelling as a need for food or water, an alcoholic cannot always simply use self-control or willpower to stop drinking. Although there is no known cure, recovery is possible through assistance and addiction treatment in a drug and alcohol rehab center.