The Causes of Alcoholism

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : December 22, 
| 4 Sources

Understanding the Causes of Alcoholism

Alcohol abuse or alcoholism is the next most common kind of substance abuse in the U.S. after tobacco addiction and there are many causes of alcoholism. Alcoholism happens when you consume so much alcohol that your body eventually becomes addicted to alcohol or dependent on it. When this occurs, alcohol turns to be the most important thing in that person’s life.

Isolating the reasons as to why someone becomes dependent on alcohol and another doesn't is not a simple task. If it were, the task of treating those suffering from the condition would be a whole lot easier.

However, those working in the field of addiction science have identified a number of 'life factors' that can increase an individual's likelihood of developing alcoholism.

The Causes of Alcoholism

Psychological, social, genetic, and environmental factors can affect how drinking alcohol affects your behavior and body. Studies suggest that for some people drinking has a different and stronger effect that could result in alcohol use disorder.

Over time, drinking alcohol excessively could alter the normal function of the parts of your brain connected with the experience of judgment, pleasure, and the ability to control your behavior. This could even result in craving alcohol to try to reestablish good feelings or lessen negative ones.

  • Gender: Gender can play a role. Men are more likely to develop alcoholism (this is not to say, however, that there are not alcoholic women, there are). This is hardly surprising. In many cultures men drink more than women, much more. It is a part of their daily lives. After work, while socializing, to relax, to celebrate, to forget. The more a person drinks the more likely he is to develop alcoholism.
  • Frequency: As mentioned above another cause of alcohol addiction can be drinking regularly AND above moderate drinking guidelines.
  • Changes in the Brain: Over time alcohol will alter brain chemistry. Most importantly, when you drink your brain produces dopamine. Dopamine makes you feel good (from the same family of chemicals as morphine, which makes you feel really good but is highly addictive). Unfortunately your body builds up a tolerance to dopamine so you need more and more alcohol to get that feeling of pleasure. The more you drink the more chance there is of developing alcohol dependence.
  • causes of alcohol addiction
  • Genetics: Research over the past few years has pointed to the fact that people are more likely to develop alcoholism whose parents have or have had a drinking problem. Studies carried out all over the world now support that alcoholism and genetics go hand in hand. Hereditary alcoholism is a real danger among those with an alcoholic family member.
  • Social: Alcohol is everywhere. Our society drips with the stuff. It is legal and socially acceptable and, sometimes, socially required (try refusing a drink in some situations and people will think your subnormal). The pressure to drink can be huge. Being around heavy drinkers as a child can also increase the chances of developing dependence.
  • Personality type: People with certain personality traits are said to be more likely to drink alcoholically. There is such a thing as an alcoholic personality. An alcoholic personality displays such traits as perfectionism, an inability to cope with frustration , emotional immaturity and competitive in nature. Alcohol dependents are more likely to have problems communicating, feel socially inferior, a guilt complex, low self-esteem and depressive tendencies.
  • Social Types: Quite often those who go on to develop alcoholism have difficulty fitting into social situations. They are not 'group' people and tend to feel that they somehow don't belong and are different from other people. They use alcohol to feel more comfortable in social situations.
  • Environmental: As genes play a role in alcoholism so does your environment. Growing up in a society/family/neighborhood where alcohol is everywhere is, of course, going to make it more likely that you will develop alcoholism. For example, a son with a drinking father is more likely to be a drinker regardless of genes, he becomes what he sees. He 'learns' to drink. Living with an alcoholic is a high risk factor.
  • Age: Studies show that the younger you start drinking the more likely you are to develop dependency. If you start experimenting with alcohol as a teenager then you increase your chances of problems later in life. The causes of teenage drinking and the causes of teenage alcoholism are slightly different from those highlighted above. They are looked at separately on this site.

When Should Someone Seek Help

Some people usually hide their drinking problem or deny they even have a problem. How could you tell if someone you know is suffering from alcohol abuse? Signs of a possible issue include having relatives or friends express concern, being annoyed when people criticize their drinking, feeling guilty about their drinking and thinking that they should cut down but finding themselves unable to do so, or needing a drink in the morning to steady their nerves or even relieve a hangover.

Some individuals with drinking issues work hard to resolve them. With the support of friends and family, these people usually recover on their own. However, those people with alcohol dependence oftentimes cannot stop drinking through sheer willpower alone. Many people need outside help. Options may include medically supervised detoxification to prevent life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, like seizures.

There are many approaches available for treating alcoholism. No approach is best for all people.

The Blame Game

When I was an active alcoholic the only person who wasn't to blame for my problems was myself.

Everybody else was the cause of my alcoholism. My girlfriend, my tutor, my parents, the dog - if only they weren't around, getting on my back then everything would be rosy and I wouldn't have to drink.

Pathetic in hindsight, I know, but I really believed that was why I drank, because of other people. However, nothing could have been further from the truth.

When I stopped drinking, I began a quest to find the causes of alcoholism, more specifically my alcoholism.

I spent hours and hours soul searching, visiting therapists, attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, all to no avail. I just couldn't find a reason as to why I had missed the warning signs of alcoholism, why I had become an alcoholic and why my siblings hadn't become dependent on alcohol

And then one day I realized that I was just wasting my time looking for causes of alcoholism. Yes, it was true that there were events in my life that might have caused me to drink, yes, I have what is termed an addictive personality but ultimately, so what.

It just wasn't, and still isn't, important

What is important is that I stopped drinking and stayed stopped.

But that is me and maybe you want to try and find out why you, or someone you care about, is addicted to alcohol. Maybe exploring the causes of alcohol addiction will help you overcome your dependency.

Although uncovering the reasons for my addiction ultimately proved unnecessary for me, discovering the causes of alcohol addiction is important for those working in the addiction treatment industry.

Knowing the reasons why people become alcoholic can help them devise new ways of treating alcoholism, and can also assist the powers that be put programs in place to prevent those at risk of developing alcohol dependence.

You Don’t Have to Live with Alcoholism!

Alcoholism is a complex disease that has adverse effects to the body. But you don’t have to live with it for too long. Please contact a dedicated treatment provider that can help you get your life back on track.

Our FREE E-book The Guide to Free and Affordable Drug and Alcohol Rehab is the definitive directory of treatment centers around the U.S. that can offer a way out of alcohol dependence to those without insurance or the money to pay for expensive alcohol rehab. 436 pages long, this guide is invaluable for those who want alcoholism help for themselves or their loved ones.

Is it Really Possible to Pinpoint the Causes of Alcoholism?

As mentioned at the start of this article it is not easy to isolate the reasons why someone did or did not develop alcoholism

Yes we can pinpoint the causes of alcoholism but they are very general. Each individual is different and life is messy. So saying that someone's drink problem is because of this or that is not really possible in most cases.

Although being aware of the causes of alcoholism is important, what is far more important is to take responsibility for your addiction to alcohol.

It is far too easy to blame the causes and not to address the immediate problems.

It can be counter productive to look for alcoholism causes. An alcoholic will often believe that they are the only person who hasn't caused their alcohol addiction, everybody or everything else has. Yet another reason to drink. The strange logic of the alcohol addict.

Weakness of Character is not What Causes Alcoholism

'Moral Weakness' is not a cause of alcoholism. This is the belief that dependency is the fault of the alcoholic and is a failure on their part to get it together and stop drinking.

This 'theory' used to be prevalent and still is among some sections of society, but is generally rejected by professionals in the alcohol addiction field.


....alcoholism is generally too complex a disease to have one cause, and is usually the result of many factors in combination.

If you or someone close to you wants help and advice on quitting drinking then take a look at the following pages:

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


Harvard Health Publishing. Alcohol abuse. December 2014.

Healthline. Alcoholism. September 29, 2018.

Mayo Clinic. Alcohol Use Disorder.

American Psychological Association. Understanding alcohol use disorders and their treatment. 2012.

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