According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), nearly 30 million Americans aged 12 or older suffered from an alcohol use disorder in 2021.
Alcohol use disorder is characterized by being unable to control your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, and continuing to use it even when it’s causing you problems. When you suffer from alcoholism, it is common to have to increase the amount of the substance you abuse to continue experiencing the desired effect. Additionally, you might experience withdrawal symptoms if you abruptly stop consuming alcohol.
If your drinking behaviors cause you significant stress and make it difficult for you to function in your daily life, you are most likely suffering from alcoholism. But why do some people develop alcohol use disorder while others don’t?
Several risk factors contribute to alcohol abuse and alcoholism. If you identify with any of the following risk factors, your likelihood of developing alcoholism is higher than others:
1. Drinking at an Early Age
One of the risk factors for alcohol abuse and alcoholism is beginning to drink at an early age. A study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that 47% of the individuals who began drinking before age 14 developed alcoholism, compared to 9% who began drinking at age 21 or older.
Because young people have not fully developed, their cognitive functioning is not as strong as an adult’s, and they are more likely to seek out immediate pleasure from substances like alcohol. Instead of thinking of the long-term effects they might experience, all they can see is how alcohol is benefitting them in the present time.
With that being said, it is much easier to develop an addiction before your cognitive abilities are fully formed. This is why drinking at an early age is one of the most notable risk factors for developing an alcohol use disorder.
2. Having a Family History of Alcoholism
Having a close family member who suffers from alcoholism increases your risk of developing the disease. While there is no specific “alcoholism gene,” studies have found that a family history of alcohol use disorder is responsible for 45-65% of your risk for developing the condition.
It is important to note that just having a family history of alcohol abuse will not cause you to become addicted to it. Your family history must be combined with other risk factors, such as your environment and social life. For example, your genetic risk for alcoholism could lie dormant until you experience significant trauma, deal with peer pressure, or grow up in a culture that normalizes alcohol abuse.
3. Childhood Trauma
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs explains that “up to a third of those who survive traumatic accidents, illness, or disaster report drinking problems.”
When someone suffers from a traumatic experience, they will begin to suffer from a wide range of emotional, behavioral, and social issues. The emotions that occur after you experience trauma can be extremely difficult to cope with, often causing people to begin abusing substances like alcohol to numb their emotions.
Experiencing trauma during early childhood makes your risk of alcohol abuse and alcoholism even higher than those who deal with trauma later in life. When trauma occurs before the brain fully develops, people are unable to effectively process the memories. As a result, they are likely to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol abuse.
4. Untreated Mental Health Conditions
According to the National Institutes of Health, “Pre-existing psychiatric disorders may increase the risk of developing AUD, in part because alcohol is often used to cope with symptoms of psychiatric disorders, even if alcohol ultimately makes the problems worse.”
This risk factor is similar to childhood trauma, as the symptoms of an untreated mental health condition can be hard to deal with. If you do not receive proper treatment, you may begin to use alcohol to numb your symptoms.
If you struggle with the symptoms of a mental illness, you must seek professional help. Having a mental health condition and an alcohol use disorder will complicate your recovery, making it vital that you seek help before you begin self-medicating.
5. Social and Environmental Factors
There are numerous social and environmental risk factors for alcohol abuse and addiction. For starters, if you grew up watching your family members abuse alcohol consistently, you might have learned that alcohol misuse is normal. Similarly, if your friends drank alcohol at every opportunity, you may believe that alcohol consumption makes you “cool.”
Even advertisements or alcohol consumption in movies and TV shows can increase your risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. When you grow up constantly seeing alcohol abuse in your environment, your brain begins to associate it as a normal pastime, making it easier for you to excuse your alcohol abuse later in life.
Get Help for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Today
If you or a loved one suffer from alcohol abuse or alcoholism, it’s time to seek help. Alcohol use disorder can cause significant impairments in every aspect of your life, including your physical and mental health. At Woburn Wellness, we pride ourselves on providing each patient with the support and tools they need to achieve long-term recovery.
To learn more about our alcohol abuse treatment program, contact us today.