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The causes of alcohol abuse

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While most people can enjoy the occasional alcoholic drink, for some the consumption of alcohol can pose a real problem. Alcoholism is problem drinking in its most serious form – it’s when an individual drinks alcohol to the extent of experiencing physical or mental health problems.  

A person suffering from an alcohol use disorder will place the consumption of alcohol above all other previous priorities such as their work and family. They will also likely be in denial about the problem and don’t know when, or even how to stop.

What are the causes of alcoholism?

There is no single measure for what causes alcoholism as it affects many different people from all walks of life, of all ages and no matter the race or gender. We do know, however, that there are a variety of factors – biological, psychological, environmental and social – that can contribute to the development of an alcohol abuse disorder.


Let’s take a look at some of the more common causes and risk factors associated with alcohol abuse.

Dopamine is the main neurotransmitter in the reward system of the brain. When enough dopamine is released, we experience feelings of euphoria and for some people, this is what drinking alcohol achieves. But after a time, our brains build a certain level of tolerance to this stimulation, making the reward system far less efficient. Because of this, the long-term performance of the brain will have been altered and the individual won’t be able to replicate the dopamine high they initially experienced from drinking.


There is research to suggest your genetics contribute towards the chances of alcoholism. Scientists have discovered that alcohol dependence could be connected with many genes in various chromosome regions. 

Many people who are addicted to alcohol have been found to have a genetic predisposition for impulse and reward-seeking behaviour. This is due to two main reasons – an underactive prefrontal cortex and also an underactive brain reward system.

Due to this, people with an underactive brain reward system aren’t able to experience as much pleasure from natural highs and seek other things which will create elevated levels of reward. This means once they have found what gives them this high, they will continue to seek it. In addition, people with an underactive prefrontal cortex will experience greater levels of difficulty to control their impulses and also with thinking about the long-term repercussions of their impulsive actions.

Should these genetics be passed down the likelihood of developing a drinking problem is far greater.

Family history

Not only is genetics a big risk factor, but if you have a relative who suffers from alcoholism and you have been a part of that environment, it can also influence your behaviour.

Drinking from a young age

Being involved in the consumption of alcohol from an early age means that the individual is likely to have developed a high level of tolerance. Due to this, and in order to feel the effects of what’s being consumed, they will need to drink more. As this has been a normal thing for the person to do for an extended period of time, it’s likely to have become a habit.

Drinking over a long period of time

Large volumes of alcohol being consumed on a regular basis can lead to dependency. This is due to a developed pattern of behaviour. The person in this situation is also less inclined to realise there is an issue with their alcohol consumption levels.

Stressful environments and situations

It is very common for people in stressful situations or environments to turn to alcohol. For example, someone in a stressful working environment or an individual experiencing an upsetting personal circumstance could be more likely to drink to excess in an attempt to cope.

Mental health problems

Similar to turning to alcohol to help with stress, people who suffer from mental health problems can turn to drink for relief. Due to the consumption of alcohol slowing reaction time, people with anxiety may feel as though their symptoms have been temporarily eased. Because alcohol is a known depressant, this isn’t a sensible option for sufferers of mental ill health and can exacerbate existing problems while creating new ones. 

Peer drinking

Being surrounded by loved ones who regularly drink can create the danger of giving in to peer pressure to join in. This kind of peer drinking environment can quickly spiral into you drinking as often as they are and beyond.


As with many addictions, convenience can be a huge cause of someone developing a problem. Living opposite a bar or off licence offering cheap prices for its alcohol offers a clear ease of access to alcohol. This kind of access can trigger a new issue or exacerbate an existing problem with alcohol.


Alcohol is often glamorised in the media and portrays the act of drinking in such a way that it feels socially acceptable to drink above the recommended limit. The advertising of alcohol could cause a lot of damage by increasing the risk of alcohol use disorder. 

Low self-esteem

People with self-esteem issues or low confidence are more likely to use alcohol for support in a range of situations. If you feel this sounds like you, and you’d like more information, The Alcohol Rehab Guide explains the relationship between alcohol and self-esteem on their website.

Taking medicine with alcohol

When an individual persistently takes their medicine with alcohol, they could become addicted to the feeling that comes with it. Some medicines have the capability to increase the toxic effects of alcohol on the body, so the action of taking them together can be dangerous.

There are a number of factors that can contribute to the causes of alcohol abuse. Understanding these factors means you can ensure you lower your risk as much as possible. For instance, if you have existing mental health problems, arming yourself with the above information means you can make positive decisions to suit your circumstances.

It is difficult for the sufferer to identify that they have a problem with alcohol because of denial. If you read our signs and symptoms and feel you or a loved one may have an alcohol problem then we can offer help. Please call our free phone line on 08000029010.

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