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What are the causes of alcoholism?

As is the case for all mental health conditions and other types of addiction, it is hard to identify a single cause for alcohol addiction. Research indicates that it is likely that there are a number of contributing factors that can lead you to develop an addiction to alcohol, which can be both genetic and environmental in nature.

At Priory, our expert alcohol addiction treatment experts can help you to identify the underlying causes and triggers for your alcohol addiction, empower you to develop healthy coping strategies for the future, and take steps towards a full and sustainable recovery.

Potential causes of alcohol addiction may include:


Research suggests that you are at increased risk of developing alcohol addiction if you have a close family member with an addiction, such as a parent or sibling. This may be due to genetic factors and the hereditary components associated with alcohol addiction, but may also be due to environmental influences and the result of witnessing heavy drinking in the home which has served to normalise this behaviour.

Mental health

If you are already struggling with an untreated mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, you may be at greater risk of developing alcohol addiction. This is because many people choose to self-medicate with alcohol as a means of trying to reduce their anxious or depressive symptoms, which ultimately can worsen mental and physical wellbeing over time.

Life events

Stressful life events such as bereavement, losing a job, experiencing a traumatic event or struggling with financial problems, have also been linked to the development of alcohol addiction. In a similar way to untreated mental health conditions, the stress and trauma that surround these types of events may lead individuals to self-medicate with alcohol, which can lead to the development of a harmful addiction.

This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Niall Campbell (MBBS, MRCPsych) in June 2020.

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