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Alcohol Addiction Causes & Risk Factors: Unraveling the Mystery

Table of Contents

Alcohol addiction, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic condition characterized by the excessive consumption of alcohol despite the harmful consequences that may result.

It is a complex disorder that affects individuals physically, mentally, and socially. Alcoholism can also cause liver disease, which can be fatal if left untreated.

The disorder arises from genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors. Various causes and risk factors also contribute to its development, such as genetic factors, family history, drinking at an early age, personal choice factors, environmental factors, and social and psychological influences.

It is crucial to understand the causes and risk factors of alcoholism for prevention and effective treatment.

Alcohol Causes and Risk Factors

Alcoholism has a complex set of causes and risk factors that can vary from person to person. Some of the most significant causes include genetic factors, family history, drinking at an early age, personal choice factors, environmental factors, and social and psychological influences.

Genetic Factors

Genetic factors play a significant role in the development of alcoholism, responsible for about 50% of a person’s risk for developing alcohol use disorder. Moreover, emerging research suggests that genetic variations may affect the way a person processes and metabolizes alcohol, increasing their susceptibility to developing alcoholism.

Family History

People with a family history of alcohol addiction are more likely to develop alcoholism themselves, even without genetic factors. Children of alcoholics are at higher risk of developing substance abuse.

Drinking at an Early Age

Drinking alcohol at an early age can also increase a person’s risk of developing alcoholism. Studies have shown that the younger a person begins drinking alcohol, the greater their risk of developing alcohol abuse. This is because the adolescent brain is still developing, and alcohol can interfere with this process.

Psychological Factors

Psychological factors, such as low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety, can also contribute to the development of alcoholism. Drinking alcohol may be used as a coping mechanism to deal with underlying mental health conditions.

Personal Choice Factors

Personal choice factors, such as the decision to drink alcohol and the amount consumed, can also contribute to the development of alcoholism. People who abuse alcohol or have a pattern of binge drinking are at higher risk for developing alcohol addiction.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors, such as peer pressure and exposure to alcohol advertising, can also play a role in developing alcohol and substance abuse.

Social and Cultural Factors

Social and cultural factors, such as cultural norms and beliefs surrounding alcohol consumption, can influence a person’s drinking habits.

High Levels of Stress

One of the primary risk factors for alcoholism is high levels of stress. People who experience this may turn to alcohol to cope with their feelings of anxiety and depression. This can lead to a cycle of dependence on alcohol to cope with stress, eventually leading to alcohol addiction.

Increased Drinking Behaviors

Another risk factor is frequent alcohol intake over an extended period. Individuals who drink alcohol regularly are at a higher risk of developing alcohol use disorder.

Binge drinking and consuming large amounts of alcohol regularly can lead to physical dependence on alcohol, making it challenging to stop drinking.

Heavy drinking may be calculated as having more than four drinks on any given day or more than fourteen drinks per week for men and having more than three drinks on any given day or more than seven drinks per week for women.

Frequent Alcohol Consumption Over a Long Period

Individuals who consume alcohol regularly over an extended period are at a higher risk of developing alcohol use disorder. Long-term alcohol intake can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms when alcohol consumption is stopped.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is another environmental factor that can contribute to alcohol use disorder. People may feel compelled to drink excessively in social situations to fit in or be accepted by their peers. This can lead to a pattern of excessive alcohol consumption, ultimately leading to addiction.

Alcohol Advertising

Alcohol advertising is another factor that can contribute to alcohol use disorder. More alcohol ads are promoting excessive drinking and normalizing alcohol consumption, making it challenging to recognize when drinking becomes problematic.

It is important to note that while these causes and risk factors may increase an individual’s likelihood of developing alcoholism, they do not necessarily mean that a person will develop an alcohol use disorder. Many people with one or more of these risk factors never develop alcoholism, while others without any risk factors may develop the disorder.

While these risk factors may increase an individual’s likelihood of developing alcoholism, it is essential to understand that alcoholism is a complex disorder that arises from genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors.

Seeking appropriate treatment and support from a counselor can effectively manage alcohol use disorders. Emerging online therapy websites also promote convenient and effective therapy for people struggling with alcoholism.

Warning Signs of Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a chronic disease that affects individuals physically and psychologically. Heavy drinking and alcohol abuse may lead to alcoholism, but other factors, such as genetic and environmental factors, can contribute to alcoholism’s causes and its development.

Recognizing the warning signs of alcoholism is crucial to prevent the disorder’s progression and associated health complications.

Some common warning signs of alcoholism include alcohol consumption, drinking history factors, physical symptoms, psychological symptoms, craving alcohol, and withdrawal symptoms. People with alcohol use disorders may have trouble controlling their drinking and continue drinking despite the negative consequences.

Drinking History Factors

Drinking history factors are one of the warning signs of alcoholism. Individuals who consume alcohol frequently and in large quantities have a higher risk of developing alcoholism. They may also develop a tolerance for alcohol, meaning they need more alcohol to feel the same effects.

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms can also be a warning sign of alcoholism. These may include:

  • Tremors and shakes, especially in the hands

  • Unsteady gait and coordination problems

  • Slurred speech and difficulty speaking clearly

  • Redness and puffiness of the face, especially around the nose and cheeks

  • Jaundice or yellowing of the skin and eyes due to liver damage

  • Liver disease, including cirrhosis and hepatitis

  • High blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke

  • Pancreatitis; a painful inflammation of the pancreas

  • Increased risk of cancer, particularly of the liver, esophagus, throat, and mouth

  • Poor nutrition and weight loss due to alcohol replacing food in the diet

  • Sexual dysfunction, including impotence and reduced fertility

Psychological Symptoms

Psychological symptoms such as:

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Mood swings

  • Irritability and aggression

  • Decreased inhibitions

  • Memory loss and blackouts

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Neglect of responsibilities

  • Social isolation and withdrawal

  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors

  • Increased risk-taking behaviors

  • Delusions and hallucinations

  • Paranoia

  • Personality changes

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to other mental health conditions or exacerbate existing ones. Moreover, alcoholism can cause changes in behavior, such as aggression or irritability.

Craving Alcohol

Craving alcohol is another warning sign of alcoholism. Individuals with alcoholism may feel a strong urge to drink alcohol, even when it causes problems in their personal and professional lives. They may also prioritize alcohol over other activities and relationships, leading to social isolation and other mental health conditions.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms are a clear indication of alcoholism. When individuals with alcoholism stop drinking, they may experience physical and psychological symptoms such as sweating, shaking, nausea, anxiety, and seizures. Withdrawal symptoms can be severe and potentially life-threatening, so it is essential to seek medical attention if a person experiences these symptoms.

If an individual experiences any of the symptoms mentioned above, they should seek help from a mental health counselor or an addiction specialist.

Treatments for Alcoholism

Alcoholism treatment options include detoxification, behavioral therapy, and medication-assisted treatment. Each treatment approach has advantages and disadvantages, and it is essential to work closely with a healthcare provider to identify the most effective treatment options for individual needs.

It is important for those struggling with alcoholism to seek professional help as it can be a difficult addiction to overcome alone. Several types of treatment are available to those struggling with alcohol dependence or abuse.

Types of Alcohol Treatment Available

For individuals struggling with alcoholism, seeking professional help is essential to overcome the addiction. Alcoholism is a complex disorder that affects physical and mental health, making it difficult to overcome alone.


Detoxification is the first step in treating alcoholism and is aimed at helping individuals manage withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, including anxiety, irritability, tremors, and seizures. Medical professionals can monitor individuals and provide medication to ease symptoms and prevent complications.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is an effective treatment option that involves individual counseling, group therapy, or family therapy. This form of therapy helps individuals identify and address the underlying causes of their addiction and develop coping mechanisms to prevent relapse. This treatment approach also helps individuals build healthier relationships and communication skills.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is another effective option for individuals struggling with alcoholism. MAT uses medication to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings while also providing counseling and therapy. Medications such as naltrexone, disulfiram, and acamprosate are commonly used in MAT to support long-term sobriety.

Rehabilitation and Outpatient Care

For individuals struggling with alcoholism, rehabilitation programs can be an essential treatment option. These programs usually involve residential treatment, which requires individuals to live in a facility for a predetermined period while participating in therapy, counseling, and group activities. Residential treatment provides a structured environment that removes individuals from triggers and environments that may lead to relapse.

Outpatient care is another treatment option that allows individuals to receive treatment while maintaining their daily routine. Outpatient programs involve regular therapy and counseling sessions, which can be scheduled around work and other obligations. This treatment option allows individuals to receive treatment while also addressing their other responsibilities.

NuView Treatment Center is dedicated to providing addiction treatment services to individuals struggling with alcoholism. Our team comprises skilled and compassionate professionals who understand the difficulties of overcoming addiction. We strive to offer personalized care tailored to each person’s unique needs, aiming to facilitate long-term recovery.

It is important to note that not every treatment method works for every individual. Finding the right treatment approach may take some trial and error. Therefore, individuals must work closely with their healthcare provider to identify the most effective treatment options for their needs.

Stopping Drinking

Quitting alcohol consumption is a challenging process that requires commitment and support. It is essential to have a strong support system in place, whether through family members or a mental health professional. Individuals should also consider making lifestyle changes, such as avoiding triggers, establishing healthy habits, and seeking out positive social support.


Alcoholism is a serious condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is important to understand the causes and risk factors associated with alcoholism to prevent and treat the condition effectively.

In this article, we have discussed some of the key causes and risk factors of alcoholism, including genetic factors, family history, drinking at an early age, psychological and personal choice factors, environmental and social factors, and warning signs and symptoms of alcoholism.

High levels of stress, increased drinking behaviors over time, age factors, frequent alcohol consumption over a long period, and family history of alcoholism are all important risk factors that can contribute to the development of alcoholism. Recognizing these risk factors and warning signs is crucial in seeking professional help and treatment.

There are various types of alcohol treatment available, including detoxification, rehabilitation programs, and counseling, all of which can help individuals overcome alcohol dependence and regain control of their lives. 

Seeking professional help is crucial in treating alcoholism, and it is important for individuals struggling with alcoholism to know that help is available to them.

In conclusion, alcoholism is a serious condition that can significantly harm a person’s health, well-being, and relationships. Understanding the causes and risk factors associated with alcoholism can help individuals recognize the warning signs and seek professional help to overcome the condition. By promoting awareness of alcoholism and the importance of seeking help, we can help those struggling with alcohol dependence to regain control of their lives and lead healthy, sober lifestyles.

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National Library of Medicine. Genetic studies of alcohol dependence in the context of the addiction cycle. (2017)

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021). Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Alcohol Use and Your Health.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). TIP 45: Detoxification and substance abuse treatment. Retrieved from

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021). Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorders.

Mayo Clinic. (2021). Alcohol use disorder. Retrieved from

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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