Alcohol use disorder (AUD)—commonly referred to as “alcoholism”—is a type of substance use disorder (SUD) that involves the uncontrollable consumption of alcohol.
Individuals who suffer from alcoholism may not be able to stop themselves from drinking too much, and often have physical or mental dependence on alcohol. This makes it so that if they stop drinking alcohol or drink less than usual, they experience withdrawal symptoms.
Alcoholism, unfortunately, is a relatively common substance use disorder. Because of this, researchers have been able to identify many of the factors that put individuals at particular risk of developing an addiction to alcohol.
A person’s family history, mental health, age, and gender can all be factors. While alcohol dependency is most often found in people with predisposed risk factors, the reality is that anyone can be affected.
Studies have shown that one of the most prevalent risk factors for an AUD is a person’s family history—specifically their genetics. There seem to be some types of genes that are present in certain families that are absent in others that put individuals at particular risk of developing alcoholism.
The specific types of genetics that cause this risk are yet unknown, but scientists estimate that they can increase someone’s risk of developing alcoholism by four times or more. This in no way indicates that a person is guaranteed to develop an alcohol use disorder just because members of their family also suffer from it.
Those without a family history of alcoholism still have the potential to develop a problem with alcohol, but those with a history may need to exercise more caution when consuming alcohol regularly.
A person’s mental health and specific psychiatric disorders can also put them at greater risk for alcoholism. However, alcoholism can also lead to the development of mental health issues, which further complicates the disorder.
In many scenarios, individuals who suffer from alcoholism may be at risk for developing psychiatric disorders, or could already be dealing with them. While it is difficult to pinpoint exact causes, researchers have identified a handful of mental disorders that appear to put individuals at higher risk of alcoholism.
Many types of mental health issues can contribute to alcoholism, but some may be more impactful than others. Again, it’s important to remember that none of these disorders are guarantees of developing alcoholism, only that they might increase one’s risk.
Mood disorders, like major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders, like generalized anxiety disorder or PTSD, can be among the more prevalent when it comes to alcoholism risk. Symptoms like anxiety, depression, or panic might lead individuals to consume excessive amounts of alcohol, making them more likely to develop a dependence on the substance.
Age and Sex
An individual’s age and their assigned sex at birth may also impact alcoholism. Age, however, is the more notable of the two factors.
Researchers have found that people are more likely to develop life long alcoholism at earlier ages. Those who first consume alcohol at ages 14 or younger are significantly more likely to develop an alcohol problem than those who don’t drink until 20 or older.
Because young people have still-developing bodies, drinking alcohol can cause serious problems later on. While not all young people who drink alcohol at early ages will develop an alcohol use disorder, the less responsibly it is consumed, the higher the chances become.
Biological sex can also influence how alcohol affects a person. While this characteristic doesn’t necessarily put someone at higher risk of developing an AUD, studies have shown how alcoholism affects men differently compared to women.
Most notably, men tend to misuse alcohol at a younger age than women. This puts them at a higher risk for developing alcoholic behaviors and dependencies, since the body gets used to having the substance during development.
Additionally, among those who did seek treatment for alcoholism, women tended to progress with treatment more quickly than men. The exact cause for this is unknown, but it may be due to societal impacts of alcoholism on women, or small differences between the effect of alcohol on women compared to men.
Overall, a person’s sex has significantly less impact than their age, mental health, and familial history when it comes to alcohol abuse.
Signs of Alcoholism
Recognizing the signs and potential risks of an AUD in friends, loved ones, and oneself can result in life-changing steps to prevent addiction. Alcoholism is a serious disorder, and it can have a massive impact on a person’s well-being, career, and family.
It is important to remember, however, that these risks do not make addiction inevitable. Anyone could be at risk of developing alcoholism. Whether someone is “high-” or “low-risk” for an alcohol use disorder, there is hope for recovery. If you think you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism or another substance use disorder, contact us today.