Which Person Would Be Most Likely to Develop Alcoholism?

Read on to learn more about the types of factors which can contribute to someone developing an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), including both internal and external contributors.

Are Some People More Prone to Alcoholism?

Alcohol misuse is a pattern of unhealthy alcohol consumption that can be harmful to your health and relationships. Alcohol misuse is defined as excess daily consumption (more than 4 drinks per day for men or more than 3 drinks per day for women), or excess total consumption (more than 14 drinks per week for men or more than 7 drinks per week for women), or both.

People who misuse alcohol to the extent that they cannot control their alcohol consumption, despite the negative consequences may be diagnosed with an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). The criteria for diagnosis of an AUD may include1:

  • The inability to control or cut down on your drinking.
  • Continued use despite negative consequences.
  • Pre-occupation with using alcohol, including cravings.
  • Increased tolerance, which is defined as having to drink more to get the same effect.
Treatment Programs

Learn about how we approach addiction treatment:

Risk Factors for Alcoholism

It’s difficult to predict someone’s likelihood of developing an AUD. Alcohol addiction may be shaped by many internal and external factors; however, some people may be at an increased risk. Genetics, personality, personal choices, and psychological components are examples of internal factors that might influence alcohol use.3 External factors include family, environment, religion, social, and cultural elements.1

Biological Factors

One of the strongest influences on the development of AUD is genetics.4 If you have a family history of alcoholism, specifically first degree relatives, there is an increased risk of developing AUD.2 According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5), family history increases the likelihood of development three to four times.1 In fact, even when raised by guardians without a history of AUD, children from biological parents with AUD were still three to four times more at risk.1 Although there is an increased risk, it does not necessarily mean that anyone with a family history will develop AUD.2 There is no single gene that causes AUD rather, a combination of genes and other factors contribute to problematic drinking.4 Genetics involved in alcoholism are complex and continue to be studied.4

Psychological Factors

The DSM-5 states that people with preexisting mental health conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are highly vulnerable to developing AUD.1 Depressive and anxiety disorders are also commonly seen with AUD.1 Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, sleep, and sexual disorders may develop after use but can often occur before.1 For many, drinking can be a way of trying to self-medicate or to cope with other emotional issues.3 For example, individuals who are struggling with a mental health disorder may use alcohol to try to alleviate their symptoms or negative emotions. They may also use alcohol to try to numb their emotions, both of which are very dangerous.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors like where a person lives, divorce, education level, and socioeconomic status (SES) all influence drinking behaviors.5 Having a higher level of education, living in an affluent neighborhood, and having a higher income are all associated with a lower risk of developing AUD.5 These elements can be called protective factors and help decrease the risk of AUD even when family history or low childhood SES are taken into account.5 Research has found that people living in poor living conditions were 150 times more likely to heavily drink.6

The ease of access to alcohol also plays a big role in the development of AUD.1 In the US, 80% of people aged 18 and older reported consuming alcohol, and 65% stated that they currently drink.1 Advertising and the role of media normalize alcohol consumption and increase an adolescent’s likelihood of drinking.6

Cultural and Social Factors

Certain cultural and social factors can contribute to alcohol misuse.1 In the United States, college students drink more than others in their age group.7 The risk of developing AUD is greater for college students nearing the legal drinking age.7 Peer pressure can be a contributing factor to the increased rates.3

People who identify within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community are four times more likely to use alcohol or substances.6

Age Factors

Drinking before the age of 15 increases the likelihood of developing AUD later in life.5 Research shows that risky drinking behaviors in adolescence could affect the person’s education or income-protective factors against the development of AUD.5

Most Common Risk Factors that Cause Alcoholism

As previously discussed, there are many risk factors associated with developing AUD, and as a result can be difficult to predict who will develop this disease.3

Below is a list of common risk factors for alcohol use disorder:

  • Family history
  • Increased stress
  • Mental health conditions
  • Cultural attitudes and beliefs
  • Drinking during adolescence

It is important to note, that not every person will be equally affected by these risk factors.3 Problematic drinking can have negative mental health, physical health, and relational consequences.3 Although some people can stop drinking independently, many people need help through detox, rehab, and therapy.3 It’s important to seek help if you believe you or a loved one is showing signs of AUD.

Sources

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020). Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.
  3. American Psychological Association.(2012). Understanding alcohol use disorders and their treatment.
  4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder.
  5. Calling, S., Ohlsson, H., Sundquist, J., Sundquist, K., & Kendler, K. S. (2019). Socioeconomic status and alcohol use disorders across the lifespan: A co-relative control study. PloS one, 14(10).
  6. Sudhinaraset, M., Wigglesworth, C., & Takeuchi, D. T. (2016). Social and Cultural Contexts of Alcohol Use: Influences in a Social-Ecological Framework. Alcohol research : current reviews, 38(1), 35–45.
  7. Substance Use and Mental Health Administration. (2021, March). Facts on College Student Drinking.
  8. Valdez, L. A., Garcia, D. O., Ruiz, J., Oren, E., & Carvajal, S. (2018). Exploring Structural, Sociocultural, and Individual Barriers to Alcohol Abuse Treatment Among Hispanic Men. American journal of men’s health, 12(6), 1948–1957.
  9. Substance Use and Mental Health Administration. (2017, September). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.