Alcohol addiction may be one of the most complex issues that we deal with in modern American history. We live in a culture that is so enamored by drinking, and binge drinking, but we tend to glamorize its dark effects. The substance is viewed through rose-colored glasses, and those who are easily impressionable can succumb to its dark side. In college, having a high tolerance to alcohol is considered to be a badge of honor, and the emergence of comedic memes plastered all over social media is just free advertising for alcohol companies.
Whether you are driving down the highway and see the giant beer billboard, or you are watching your favorite show on television and see a commercial for alcoholic beverages, it’s hard to deny the pull alcohol has on our society. At times, it may seem inescapable. Unfortunately, the numbers seem to reflect this as well.
The legality of alcohol makes it a force to be reckoned with because when someone turns 21 and has a couple of dollars in spare change, they instantly have access to an alcoholic beverage. The question we all wonder, though, is when does harmless social drinking turn into a full-blown addiction?
First, let’s take a look at the statistics and what alcoholism costs the United States each year. On average, the United States sees a financial burden of $249 billion relating to alcohol consumption, and three-quarters of the total cost of alcohol misuse is related to binge drinking. Every year in the country, 88,000 people die from alcohol-related cases, which makes it the third leading preventable cause of death.
The stories of alcoholism are very personal and touching; one such story is about a woman named Jean. She describes her situation with a story of darkness followed with hope. She goes on to say, “I gave up hope of ever becoming sober. I decided to drink myself to death. It didn’t work. After destroying my kids’ lives and losing our home, car, and my job, I became temporarily sober for periods of six months or so – never lasting more than a year.”
These stories are much more common than you’d think, where the person struggling never believes they can get their lives back on the rails. Alcohol is an addiction, and if we’ve learned anything about addiction, it is a disease that hijacks our brains. The question we often wonder, though, is why does it alcohol addiction happen? Why are some of us so susceptible, whereas others can drink and not get hooked?
Alcoholism is considered to be the chronic consumption of alcoholic beverages, and it is also referred to as alcohol dependence syndrome and defines the characteristic behavior of alcoholics, which is impaired control over drinking that leads to loss of control over all areas of one’s life. There are various causes of alcoholism, and some of the leading factors associated with the disease are genetics, psychological, and social factors. Below, we will take an in-depth look at causes determined to contribute to one’s alcohol addiction.
Increased awareness of alcohol addiction has led to recently published scientific evidence that points to genetics playing a significant role in alcohol addiction. One such report states that “alcohol use disorder (AUD) often seems to run in families, and we may hear about scientific studies of an alcoholism gene. Genetics certainly influence our likelihood of developing an alcohol use disorder, but the story isn’t so simple.”
The studies show that genes are responsible for about half of the risk for AUD, showing that genes alone do not determine whether someone will develop an alcohol use disorder. Environmental factors, as well as gene and environment interactions, account for the additional risk.”
The published research is based on a behavioral pattern that significantly occurs in a family with a history of alcoholism, which is known as DRD2, but the connection is yet to be verified as a primary cause of alcohol addiction. Further studies have shown that children of alcoholics are more likely to develop alcohol-related problems compared to the general population. The prevalence of alcoholism in first-degree relatives is three to four times more than compared to the general population.
Not all, but many of those who drink do so to self-medication and improve their mood. Many of those who struggle with addiction as a whole, also experience crippling anxiety or depression disorders. Alcohol is a coping mechanism, and while it may work in the short-term, long-term repercussions from abusing the substance can be catastrophic. Heavy alcohol consumption depletes serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that produce feelings of happiness and calm. Despite this, alcohol addiction can cause the user to continue drinking despite the consequences.
One of the primary causes of alcoholism is binge drinking to forget life’s struggles and problems. Many of those with an alcohol use disorder drink to ignore their hardships and consume large quantities of alcohol in one sitting. Someone who drinks irresponsibly may develop a tolerance in the long-run. The more someone drinks, the more they become tolerant of the substance. Furthermore, this can lead to higher alcohol consumption, and then later, to alcohol addiction.
As we mentioned above, many who abuse alcohol do so because of pressing mental health issues. Depression has been linked with a cause of alcoholism. Alcoholism and depression can coexist, and it is evident among alcohol users who display many mood swings when intoxicated. Those who abuse alcohol have also shown to be more affected by acute withdrawal symptoms, which can then lead to deep-rooted anxiety and depression.
The interaction of alcohol and affective disorders may be linked genetically or may exist as a result of the other. A person with a case of anxiety or depression may drink to cope with their condition, while an alcoholic may display symptoms of depression as a result of drinking.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that in 2010, 50.0 percent of people aged 18 and older are regular alcohol drinkers, while 13.6 percent are occasional alcohol drinkers. Additionally, 23 percent of adults aged 18 and above drink more than five alcoholic drinks in a day. Sixty percent of men, currently, are regular drinkers, and it is also noted that more men are former regular drinkers. On that same note, women tend to be current or former drinkers.
It’s common to hear about peer pressure among our youth, but it is something that continues well into adulthood. Many adults carry pain and scars from their younger years, and these same individuals often make decisions to gain respect from their peers. They will go on binge drinking nights, and sprees to be viewed as cool. It solidifies the point made at the beginning of our article about how social media influences our current drinking culture. Memes make jokes about binge drinking, and those who binge may not understand their behavior to be damaging.
The goal is to continue spreading information about the adverse effects of chronic alcohol consumption. The mainstream media portrays this topic lightly, but it is crucial to know the dangers that drinking can lead to. While some may be able to enjoy a drink or two on the weekend with no lingering effects, the reality is that some will fall into the darkness that is alcohol addiction. If you are one of those people, we can help.
Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder. (n.d.). from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders/genetics-alcohol-use-disorders
T, B. (n.d.). 29 Personal Alcohol and Drug Recovery Stories Worth the Read. from https://www.verywellmind.com/personal-alcohol-and-drug-recovery-stories-63500
Alcohol Facts and Statistics. (n.d.). from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
The Stanton Peele Addiction Website. (n.d.). from https://peele.net/lib/sociocul.html