Most of us know at least one person who has struggled with the effects of alcoholism, the addiction to alcohol, now commonly referred to as an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Whether you end up with a DUI or relationship complications, alcohol has the power to destroy your life.
It helps to understand the root causes of alcoholism so you can possibly prevent the onset of the disease – and find better ways to fight it.
Causes and risk factors of AUDs
As you might imagine, there’s no single cause of an AUD. Alcohol use problems can affect anyone, regardless of geographic location, age, sex, ethnicity, religious beliefs, or body type. And it may be very mild, to the point of being barely noticeable, or very severe, leading to catastrophic life consequences for the user.
Instead, AUDs are associated with many different hypothetical causes, such as:
- Genetics. There does appear to be a genetic explanation for the appearance of an alcohol use disorder, as excessive alcohol consumption tends to run in families. If you have a genetic predisposition to an AUD, you may find it naturally more pleasurable to consume alcohol, or you may have an addictive personality, or you may simply be more likely to drink because that’s what all your family members do.
- Environment/surroundings. Your environment and surroundings also play a role, both in childhood and adulthood. If you grow up surrounded by heavy drinkers, you’ll come to believe the activity is normal. If you live in an area with many bars and liquor stores, you may come to see excessive drinking as a fun and relaxing, relatively normal activity.
- Income and attitude toward money. Some people associate alcoholism with low-income households, but the reality is the opposite; people with more disposable income are more likely to partake in alcohol consumption because they can afford to buy all the booze they want. People who spend money frivolously or earn lots of it are more likely to develop an AUD.
- Social connections. We also need to consider social connections. If all your friends drink, and your favourite way to socialise becomes going out to get drunk, you’re going to be much more likely to develop a disorder.
- Mental health. People with mental health issues like depression or anxiety are also more likely to use alcohol as a coping strategy. This can lead to a vicious cycle, with depression leading to heavy drinking, heavy drinking leading to life problems, and life problems leading to more depression.
Risk factors for AUDs include:
- A family history of AUDs. If there are people in your family with AUDs, you’re more likely to develop one yourself.
- Early drinking. People who drink from an early age are also more likely to end up with an AUD.
- Stress. If you experience high levels of stress, anxiety, depression, or other mental health afflictions, you’ll be more likely to turn to alcohol for support.
- Friend groups. Your friend group influences you, whether you realize it or not. Heavy drinking friends make it more likely for you to develop an AUD.
- Patterns of excessive consumption. Heavy or frequent drinking also accelerates the development of AUD.
Overcoming an AUD
People don’t typically choose to develop an AUD. Instead, it’s something that unfolds over time, often beneath the notice of the person experiencing it.
The good news is that it’s possible to overcome your AUD with the following:
- Admit you have a problem. The first step is always admitting you have a problem, and for many people, this is difficult. If you know family members who drink heavier than you do or if you have a few friends who seem to thrive despite their drinking, you may believe that you’re consuming a normal amount of alcohol and that you don’t have a problem. But this may not be the case.
- Undergo cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Therapy is one of your best resources. It can help you uncover deeper truths about your personality and history, while simultaneously guiding you to healthier, better behaviour.
- Lean on friends and family members for help. You don’t have to do this alone. If you have supportive friends and family members in your life, lean on them for any help they can provide.
- Avoid tempting situations and environments. It’s especially important in the early days of your recovery to avoid tempting situations and environments. Stay away from bars, parties with heavy drinking, or friends who also have drinking problems.
Alcohol consumption doesn’t have to ruin your life. Even if you’re struggling with a genuine AUD, you will always have the opportunity to notice what’s going on and make a concentrated effort to fix it. With the right motivation, ample discipline, and sufficient support from the people around you, you can change your life for the better.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.