Causes Of Alcoholism - Advice & Treatment - Detox Plus UK

Alcoholism is also known as alcohol addiction, alcohol misuse or alcohol dependence. It is described as a physical compulsion and a mental obsession to consume alcohol.

Alcoholism is defined as excessive consumption of alcohol resulting in significant negative impacts on one’s life and persistent drinking despite these issues.

There are many causes and risk factors associated with alcoholism; however, it can be treated so sufferers can stop drinking.

alcoholic drinking wine

On this page:

How can I tell if I’m an alcoholic?

Causes and risk factors of alcoholism

Biological factors

Psychological factors


Am I an alcoholic?

If you ever find yourself wondering, am I an alcoholic? You cannot afford to ignore that thought.

Alcohol is such a powerful chemical that alcoholics who do not stop drinking could put their lives at risk.

Signs of alcohol dependence include:

  • Struggling to carry out daily tasks or do a job without drinking alcohol
  • Prioritising drinking alcohol over most things in your life
  • Continuing to drink despite the negative consequences 
  • Finding it difficult to control the amount you drink and when you drink
  • Finding it difficult to stop drinking
  • Drinking increasing amounts of alcohol
  • Craving alcohol or having withdrawal symptoms
  • Tolerance has increased over time (it takes longer for you to get drunk)

Causes and risk factors of alcoholism

Part of the lack of understanding is that alcoholism is often confused with other words that mean different things, especially alcohol abuse and alcohol dependency.

What drives a person to drink so much to be considered an alcoholic? Are they drowning their sorrows? Do they wish to forget their past and escape the present? Do they feel pain and can only lose themselves in alcohol? What causes someone to be an alcoholic?

There could be many complicated reasons why people drink. But if you could get to the root of the problem, it could be a massive breakthrough. It could unlock the key to rehabilitation and show you how to live without alcohol.

Alcoholism can be a long-standing, debilitating illness affecting the body and the mind. In most cases, alcohol addiction may not have one primary cause, but many contributing factors could lead someone to physical and psychiatric dependency.

List of common risk factors for alcohol use disorder:

  • Family history of alcoholism or drug use
  • Increased stress
  • Mental health conditions
  • Cultural attitudes and beliefs
  • Drinking during adolescence

Biological factors

Genetics, environment, life experience and disorders such as stress and depression, among other considerations, can play a vital role in someone developing a drinking problem. Some have felt alcohol addiction may be hereditary, but no actual alcoholism gene has been identified, although your upbringing may influence whether you grow up to drink yourself.

You might have far more chance of being an alcoholic if your parent drank. It is widely believed causes of alcoholism may run in families, and some people may be genetically predisposed to drink, especially if they grew up with alcoholic parents.

Many claim to have an addictive personality, which makes them prone to drink. It is also not uncommon for some people to give in to peer pressure from possible friends or family members who may be unwittingly encouraging them to drink.

There are cases of people dealing with an unexpected life event, such as suffering trauma or bereavement, which could cause them to start drinking heavily. If you suddenly become unemployed or have gone through a breakup, you may use alcohol to cope.

Psychological factors of alcoholism

It is common for people afflicted with a psychiatric disorder to consume alcohol as a form of self-medication. Mental health issues play a prominent role in the causes of alcoholism.

  • Mood disorders, e.g. depression or bipolar
  • Anxiety disorders, e.g. panic or social anxiety
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Psychotic disorders, e.g. schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder

Individuals suffer from numerous conditions, from stress, anxiety, and depression to post-traumatic stress disorder or bipolar, falling prey to alcoholism. They may be drinking to try and curtail their symptoms, as it is believed people who have psychological disorders are more likely to turn to alcohol, but it is only a temporary solution.

However, you think it has the desired effect, making you forget your worries and want to repeat the feeling. So, you keep on drinking, possibly weekly or daily, until it becomes a habit. Alcohol is a coping mechanism; you think it will make you feel better, but it only worsens things. This is because alcohol is a depressant and affects the chemicals in the brain, possibly altering your mood and making you susceptible to addiction.

But if you are grief-stricken, lost or depressed, or if it is down to your personal history, you may feel alcohol is truly your escape. You think it is the only thing that can get you through life, which is how many people develop a drinking problem. These triggers may set you on the road to dependency and cause you to become an alcoholic.

How Does Someone Get Addicted to Alcohol

When you drink a beer or wine, or even some shots of strong spirits, your body experiences a chemical reaction. Your brain releases more dopamine and endorphins, which triggers feelings of pleasure and motivation. This teaches you to associate alcohol with pleasure.

For many people, this reaction drives them to drink more. However, as you drink, you build up a tolerance over time. This means you need more to achieve the same effect as before.

If you don’t drink enough, you might experience symptoms of withdrawal. For some people, this triggers them to drink more to stop withdrawal symptoms.

When you build up that tolerance, and you can’t stop drinking without experiencing symptoms of withdrawal, you’ve become physically dependent on alcohol.

Physical vs Psychological Addiction to Alcohol

Some people do not get addicted to alcohol because they enjoy the feeling it gives them. For example, you might have heard of people using alcohol to “medicate.”

They might use it to self-soothe and avoid the symptoms of another mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety. Many people get addicted to alcohol because it helps them escape their problems and feel better.

This isn’t a physical addiction; it’s a psychological one.

Why Does Someone Get Addicted to Alcohol

There is no straightforward answer to this question like there is no straightforward answer to the question, why do people start drinking? Not all people who drink become alcoholics.

The answer to why alcoholism happens depends on the person and their particular situation at the time. However, many factors can contribute.


Alcoholism can be a genetic disease. If you have parents who are alcoholics, there is a higher chance you will be one too.

It’s not just about the family history. The brain chemistry of a person who is genetically prone to alcoholism will react differently when they consume alcohol.

Childhood Experiences

Many people who become alcoholics have a history of trauma or abuse in their childhood. If you experience abuse and neglect, it can cause a lot of trauma. Some people will use alcohol to cope with this.

Brain Chemistry

Some people’s brain chemistry makes them more prone to alcoholism. This is often caused by a trauma earlier in life.


Your environment can also be a factor. If you live in a culture where alcohol use is normal, then you are more likely to become an alcoholic. If you live in a culture where people use alcohol to cope with stress, you are more likely to become an alcoholic.

Personality Traits

Being impulsive is a trait that can make you more likely to drink alcohol. Impulsivity is associated with many mental health issues, including different types of substance abuse.


Sometimes people drink alcohol to self-medicate for another issue. For example, you might use alcohol to cope with stress or sadness. Or, if you’re dealing with chronic pain, you might use alcohol to help dull those feelings.

Peer Pressure

Sometimes alcohol becomes a way to fit in with your friends. Peer pressure is a significant factor for some people. Drinking becomes almost like a competition.

Financial Problems

Money problems can put some people at a higher risk of developing alcoholism. If you’re struggling financially, you might use alcohol to help relieve that stress.

Mental Health

People with mental health issues are sometimes more likely to drink alcohol and become addicted. This is because they might use alcohol to deal with their symptoms. Around 86 per cent of people in treatment for an alcohol addiction also have a co-occurring mental health diagnosis. 

Several mental health conditions are commonly seen in dual diagnosis.


Alcoholism is often found in people who have depression. People who are depressed tend to rely more heavily on alcohol to help with their feelings.

Anxiety Disorders

If you have an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder, then you might turn to alcohol to reduce those feelings. Drinking can make you feel better for a little while, but it only masks the symptoms of your issues.


People who have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) might be more likely to develop an alcohol problem. PTSD is a mental health condition brought on after someone experiences a traumatic event such as war or rape.

Bipolar Disorder

If you have bipolar disorder, then you have a higher chance of being an alcoholic. Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings.

People with this disorder will often feel a lot of highs and lows. They’ll go from feeling super energetic and happy to sad and depressed.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorders usually cause someone to have panic attacks.

Panic attacks are a quick build-up of symptoms that are so intense that they scare you. These feelings can be so frightening that you might use alcohol to help dull those feelings.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder is a mental health condition that causes you to have extreme mood swings, a lack of emotion, and impulsive behaviours. People with borderline personality disorder are 3.35 times more likely to be alcoholics.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can cause you to feel bad about yourself and as though you are not good enough. Alcohol can change your brain so that you feel better about yourself. 


Someone with schizophrenia experiences delusions and hallucinations. These can be very frightening. They may cause you to feel like you need to drink to avoid these symptoms.

Treatment for alcoholism

Treatment is the initial action for a healthier life. Our alcohol treatment experts will work with you to produce a personalized overall recovery programme with measurable goals.

Comprehensive recovery programmes may involve inpatient or outpatient treatment, counselling and support groups.

Why Do People Become Alcoholics?

Did you know that 1.34 billion people worldwide consumed unsafe amounts of alcohol in 2020? However, while some of those people may have become alcoholics, others did not. What’s the difference between the groups? 

Why do people become alcoholics or not? No one chooses to become an alcoholic. 

The story of alcoholism is as complex as the motivations behind why some people choose to start drinking. This post explores some of the common reasons people will often become alcoholics.

Keep reading and learn more about alcoholism causes and what risk factors come into play. 

Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer to the question of why do people become alcoholics. Many factors come into play. However, there is hope if you or someone you love is struggling with addiction. 

Detox Plus offers free and unbiased advice to help you find addiction treatment and mental health treatment. Contact us today and let us help you find a supportive and nurturing centre where you can begin your path to recovery. 

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