What is considered an Alcoholic?
The signs of alcohol addiction can be very subtle, at least at first. You might find that you’re drinking more regularly and reaching for alcohol in order to relieve stress or ‘unwind’ after a busy day at work.
Over time, your drinking may increase. You might find that you prioritise drinking over your family, friends, responsibilities and other activities that you used to enjoy. It can also start to have a detrimental impact on the quality of your sleep, your performance and concentration at work, as well as your mood. You might also find that you’ve developed a tolerance to alcohol, meaning that you need to drink more in order to feel ‘drunk’.
For further clarity on whether you’re showing the signs of alcoholism, you can use a screening tool like the CAGE test. If you answer “yes” to two or more of the following four questions, this might indicate that you have a problem:
- Cut - Have you ever felt that you should cut down on your drinking?
- Annoyed - Have people annoyed you by commenting on your drinking habits?
- Guilty - Have you ever felt bad or guilty about how much you’re drinking?
- Eye-opener - Have you ever had an eye-opener e.g. a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?
Ultimately, when your alcohol use is having a damaging impact on your ability to function in your day-to-day life, and you have experienced negative consequences as a result of your drinking, this might signal that you have developed alcohol use disorder and need alcohol addiction treatment.
What Causes Alcoholism?
There are a number of potential causes and risk factors for alcoholism. These include:
Family history and genetics
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. Research suggests that there are significant genetic factors and hereditary elements of alcohol addiction. It might also be down to environmental influences and the result of witnessing heavy drinking in the home, potentially from a very young age, which may have normalised this behaviour for you. It might also be that these nature and nurture elements both have an impact on the likelihood of you developing an addiction.
Stressful life events have also been linked to someone developing an alcohol addiction. Examples might include going through a bereavement, losing your job, experiencing a traumatic event or struggling with financial problems. The stress and trauma that surround these types of events may lead you to try to self-medicate with alcohol, which can lead you to develop a harmful addiction. These alcohol statistics also show that 60% of people in alcohol treatment also need mental health treatment for co-ocurring conditions.
Experiencing abuse and/or neglect in childhood
Experiencing abuse or neglect, especially if this happened when you were a child, can also increase your risk of developing alcoholism in later life. This may be due to the fact that you weren’t able to develop healthy coping mechanisms as a result of the abuse and/or neglect you suffered, which means you may turn to drink and drugs to help you cope with life.
There are a number of social factors that may also contribute to the chances of you becoming an alcoholic. These can include things like your culture, religion, work and your current life stage. For example, if you’ve recently started university, your drinking may have increased due to the ‘culture’ around student drinking, fresher’s week and wanting to make friends.
Peer pressure is another social factor that can play a role. When your partner, friends or work colleagues drink regularly and encourage you to join them, it’s natural for this to influence your own choices about alcohol.
The age you start drinking can also have an impact on your chances of struggling with addiction. If this happens early in life, or when you’re still underage, it can make it more likely that you’ll develop problems in the future.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the younger the age of drinking onset, the greater the chance of you developing an alcohol use disorder in the future. The NIAAA found that young people who began drinking before the age of 15 were four times more likely to develop alcohol addiction than people who started drinking at the legal age.
From the age of 15, I started to smoke cannabis and drink with friends. I drifted into my late teens, gradually increasing my drinking and drug use.
At the age of 19, I knew I was starting to develop a drink and drug problem. I was totally ignorant to the fact that I was already a hopeless addict.
Read more about Gareth's journey to sobriety here.
Why do people become Alcoholics?
Ultimately, people become alcoholics because of a process known as ‘positive reinforcement’. Positive reinforcement encourages certain patterns of behaviour to form by offering a perceived ‘reward’ for that behaviour.
In the context of alcoholism, drinking can cause you to experience ‘positive’ outcomes such as feeling confident, relaxed and carefree, which can mean that you want to drink alcohol over and over again to feel the same effects.
Over time, repeated drinking can mean you develop a physical tolerance to alcohol. With a high tolerance, you’ll need to drink even more to feel these effects, and will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking. This can then feed into a vicious circle because you need to drink to get rid of your withdrawal symptoms, causing the cycle to continue.
Who is most likely to become an Alcoholic?
Research also shows that men are more likely than women to become alcoholics. A study reported by the CDC found that in 2019, 7% of men had an alcohol use disorder, compared with 4% of women. In addition, men are also more likely to binge drink than women, and have a higher rate of alcohol-related hospitalisations than women.
In addition, a review by Lancet Psychiatry found that people who are already struggling with a mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, may be at greater risk of developing alcohol addiction. This is because these individuals may use alcohol to self-medicate and bring temporary relief from their psychological symptoms.
Get Help for Alcohol Addiction
At Priory, our 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.
We offer intensive inpatient Addiction Treatment Programmes, a free addiction assessment and flexible day care and outpatient treatment options, all of which have been designed to help you get back on track. Contact us today to find out more.
Book a FREE Confidential Assessment at your Nearest Priory Hospital Today.
For more information about the addiction services that Priory offer, download our brochure.Get our brochure