Why Do People Start Abusing Alcohol? | The Ranch

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Why Do People Start Abusing Alcohol?

man drinking bottle of alcohol surrounded by many bottles

People abuse alcohol because addiction is a chronic disease of the brain. There are a number of factors that contribute to the onset and perpetuation of alcohol abuse.

It’s in Their DNA

Some people have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. Research suggests a family history of addiction doubles people’s risk for substance abuse. While scientists haven’t found one specific “addiction gene,” a large body of research points to genetic influences in people who abuse alcohol and drugs. By examining DNA of family members with substance abuse, scientists have pinpointed groups of similar genes and similar ways proteins bind to genes in relatives that are different than people without substance abuse issues. 

They’re Trying to Manage Symptoms of Mental Health Conditions

People who abuse alcohol are four times more likely to have depression and 48% more likely to have an anxiety disorder, according to large epidemiological surveys by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol abuse and drug abuse can be a way to cope with symptoms of anxiety and depression. It can also exacerbate the symptoms, fueling a vicious cycle.

Self-medicating depression

Initially, alcohol may make depressed people feel “up” or “on,” but alcohol is a depressant. This means it slows down the central nervous system and has sedating effects. Over time, alcohol abuse can negatively impact the brain’s feel-good chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine. Other effects of alcoholism like disrupted sleep and decreased folic acid can exacerbate symptoms of depression.

Self-medicating anxiety

People with social anxiety disorder are especially at risk for alcohol abuse. Using alcohol to grease the wheels for social events and gatherings can seem like a good solution at first, but can quickly spiral into problem drinking. Similar to how alcohol can impact serotonin and other neurotransmitters to increase depression symptoms, it can do the same for anxiety symptoms, especially in the hours or days following drinking.

People in substance abuse treatment are typically evaluated for co-occurring mental health disorders like anxiety, personality disorders, depression and other mood disorders so that both issues can be addressed.

Their Past Is Painful

Sometimes people who abuse alcohol try to fight past demons with the bottle. Emotional trauma from childhood like abuse and neglect can trigger an alcohol problem later in life. A study by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in Addictive Behaviors journal illustrates this point. A review of questionnaires on family dysfunction, childhood abuse and parental alcoholism assessed alcohol risk as it related to eight stressful or traumatic past experiences. All eight of these areas were linked with increased risk of alcoholism in adulthood as well as the likelihood of marrying an alcoholic.

They View Drinking as “The Norm”

Growing up in an environment where drinking was common can predict problem drinking later in life. Teens who grow up in a home where their parents regularly imbibe and have permissive attitudes around alcohol are more likely to drink according to some research.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure can prompt people to go against their beliefs and values. Research backs up this strong behavior predictor. A 2007 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health followed risky behaviors of 805 adolescents. Researchers found that having friends who drank or smoked and that invited them to do the same were the strongest predictors of substance use in adolescents – even outweighing parenting styles or parental drinking behaviors.

Adolescents aren’t the only ones that fall prey to peer pressure. Even middle-aged drinkers face peer pressure when it comes to drinking. One 2011 study by the Medical Research Council found many middle-aged people admit to making excuses such as dieting and driving to avoid feeling pressured into drinking at social gatherings.

Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment

Specialized alcohol and substance abuse treatment helps people address the multitude of biological and behavioral factors that contribute to addiction. Through individual and group therapy as well as psychiatric care, people learn to manage their underlying issues and develop resiliency and healthy coping skills. 

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