Why Do People Become Alcoholics?

Alcohol addiction, also known as an alcohol use disorder (AUD), is not too dissimilar from addiction to other substances, such as marijuana, opioids, or cocaine, in that it still constitutes a disease. And it is one that has turned the lives of many American adults upside down. To contextualize this statement, we only have to take a look at a study published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The study revealed that as many as 15 million adults in America have a problem with alcohol. Even more troubling, only 10 percent of those individuals will ever seek help to quit drinking.

Binge Drinking vs. an Alcohol Use Disorder: What Is the Difference?

Whether we are talking about a bonafide alcohol use disorder or a binge drinking problem, excessive drinking can become a way of life for a variety of reasons. And this is true even when individuals are fully aware of the health problems and other dangers that come with excessive alcohol consumption, including alcohol-related traffic fatalities. When it comes to binge drinking, in particular, a study published by the National Institutes of Health found that a large percentage of American adults who binge drink reported doing so to be more social. Meanwhile, others admitted to doing so to gain acceptance from their peers or as a way to combat boredom.

For those not aware, binge drinking refers to willfully consuming alcoholic beverages to the point that one’s blood alcohol concentration reaches 0.08 percent or higher. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men can hit this BAC by consuming just five alcoholic beverages. Comparatively speaking, it would take only four drinks for women to do the same.

Now that we have a better understanding of binge drinking, let’s shift our attention to what it means to have an AUD. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), an alcohol use disorder is a drinking problem characterized by a strong emotional or physical alcohol dependence. Further, individuals with an AUD will often exhibit some of the following behaviors:

  • Becoming preoccupied with obtaining and consuming alcohol
  • Drinking to the point that it interferes with work or family obligations
  • Continuing to drink even while knowing that doing so can potentially lead to physical or mental health problems
  • Building up a tolerance to alcohol that requires consuming more of it to feel intoxicated

Of course, there are many more signs associated with having an alcohol use disorder; however, these are some of the more common ones.

Why Do People Become Alcoholics?

While most people make a conscious decision to binge drink, things are much different for individuals with an alcohol use disorder.  Many individuals become alcoholics as a result of one or more of the following factors:

Genetics – For most people, genetics will play a role in terms of whether they merely binge drink from time to time or go on to develop an alcohol use disorder.

To that point, scientists have identified 51 genes that dictate how an individual will respond to alcohol, particularly when it comes to the following:

  • How the body breaks down alcohol
  • Severity of hangovers
  • Psychological well-being
  • The potential for engaging in risky behavior

Along with all of these things, genes can play a critical role in determining whether an individual stops or continues to drink alcohol.
Mental illnesses – Mental health problems can also increase the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder, especially if an individual is already genetically predisposed to developing one. Studies show that many people turn to alcohol as a way to cope with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or anxiety, for example, and eventually find themselves spiraling down a path of addiction.
Age – In a study published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, researchers found that age is yet another factor that can determine whether or not an individual will develop an AUD. The study noted that those who are in their late teens to mid-twenties are not only more likely to abuse alcohol but also more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder.

Bottom Line

All in all, many things can drive individuals to drink excessively. However, genetics will have the final say in whether or not excessive drinking culminates in an alcohol use disorder. Of course, this does not mean that quitting alcohol is impossible, but doing so will take a tremendous amount of commitment. And it will also require seeking help from a licensed rehab facility. To learn more about alcohol use disorders or to find a quality rehab facility in your area, you’re encouraged to schedule a consultation with one of our addiction experts today at 954-523-1167.