Alcohol use disorder (AUD), also referred to as alcohol addiction or alcoholism, is a severe medical condition. In 2020 alone, this condition affected over 14.1 million adults (over the age of 18) and 414,000 youth (ages 12 to 17). Additionally, more than 140,000 people die each year in the U.S. due to excessive alcohol use. These numbers are staggering. However, they shed light on the prevalence of those who are actively struggling with alcohol addiction.
Learning about risk factors, as well as understanding the health consequences that can result from alcohol use, can help reduce the risk of developing AUD.
What Is Alcohol Addiction?
Throughout history until now, drinking alcohol has been a widely normalized act of society. It is common for people to get together to share a beer or a glass of wine, whether for a celebration or a casual get-together. So, when does alcohol use become an issue?
Alcohol addiction is the inability to control one’s drinking, despite the consequences it may cause to one’s health, well-being, relationships, and other responsibilities. It can include symptoms such as:
- Loss of interest in social events you have previously enjoyed
- Issues with family and other close relationships
- Issues with concentration and focus
- Thinking about drinking a lot of the time
- Experiencing issues at work or school due to alcohol use
- Rapid and intense changes in mood
- Feeling a “need” to drink due to uncomfortable physical or emotional withdrawal symptoms
Risk Factors of Alcohol Addiction
Some people may drink alcohol in moderation and experience little to no loss of control over use. Others may drink alcohol one time and become addicted. These circumstances can be dependent on risk factors. Risk factors make an individual more vulnerable to developing an addiction. Some common risk factors of alcohol addiction include:
Drinking at an Early Age
A national survey conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that the age at which we are exposed to alcohol directly affects our risk of alcoholism. Those who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop AUD compared to those who begin drinking past 21 years old. Additionally, women are more at risk in this group than men; however, men who begin drinking earlier also experience an increased risk of developing AUD.
The genetics we inherit from our parents have also been shown to impact our risk of developing alcohol addiction. In fact, research shows that inherited genes are 50% responsible for the development of AUD. However, genetics can also be affected by our environment. Growing up in a household where substance addiction is present can impact the expression of our genes. While you may be at higher risk if your parents struggle with mental illness or substance use, you can still make choices to reduce your risk. These choices allow you to change your own and your family’s risk factors.
A variety of mental health conditions, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anxiety, have all been linked to an increased risk of alcohol addiction. Your individual history of trauma, especially untreated trauma, can increase your likelihood of turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism. If you or a loved one is concerned, remember these conditions only increase the risk. We all have the choice to overcome our past and manage our mental health in healthier ways.
Accidental Alcohol Addiction
Because alcohol use is as normalized as it is, many people can become addicted unintentionally. If you or a loved one drinks alcohol causally, you are already at an increased risk of developing alcohol addiction. If something stressful or chaotic were to surface in your life, you might be more likely to turn to alcohol to self-medicate since it is known to provide quick yet temporary relief. Quickly, alcohol use can become a regular method of dealing with stress.
These circumstances are not uncommon. Drinking alcohol is recognized as a normal and common way to decompress after a long day. However, when drinking is considered a solution to a problem, it can inevitably become a habitual coping mechanism. Instead of working through an issue or emotion, you would rather have a drink. Ultimately, it is a way to bury your head in the sand and not deal with a problem. When drinking is talked about in this way, it makes sense that those prone to alcohol addiction could fall into it without notice.
What You Can Do
Simply being aware of the warning signs of accidental addiction is only the beginning of preventing alcohol addiction. Consciously observing our behavior can be challenging, as we all live busy and stressful lives. Bringing more awareness to how and why you use alcohol can help you to understand that drinking contributes to more harm than good.
Alcohol addiction is a serious disease that negatively impacts individuals and their loved ones. It can affect family relationships, work, school, and overall mental and physical well-being. Due to alcohol use being so common, it is common for people to develop alcohol addiction unintentionally, without notice. Many may turn to alcohol as a way to cope with daily stress. However, this road will lead to inevitable consequences.
Alcohol addiction requires treatment from a trusted facility. We at Buena Vista are here to help. Our goal is to help educate our patients and their families on ways to turn their lives around. We believe everyone deserves to live a life free from addiction. We offer a range of treatment programs for individuals at any step of their recovery journey. If you or a loved one needs support and treatment, call us at (480) 741-9414.