According to researcher Mark Schucki, MD, about 50% of dependence and addiction to alcohol can be attributed to genetics. In fact, sometimes clients will enter treatment and say “Addiction runs in my family, so I can’t help it”.
But what about the other 50%?
Environmental and social factors are just as important as genetics when it comes to alcoholism.
4 Things that Contribute to Alcoholism
How easy is it for someone to get his or her hands on alcohol? In terms of young people, if parents drink at home, getting access to alcohol is usually pretty easy. It can be as simple as opening the fridge or unlocking the liquor cabinet. If the child has a friend or relative who will regularly purchase or supply alcohol, they are at even more risk.
A child raised in an environment where no one drinks and alcohol is not readily available will find it more difficult to experiment with drinking.
People who regularly experience a high amount of stress over a long period of time are more likely to self-medicate with alcohol than those who do not. An inability to cope with stress is included under this risk factor.
Developing healthy coping mechanisms and stress management are crucial to a healthy recovery journey. When stressful situations arise, how do you typically react? If you know your coping skills are poor, consider starting a new hobby like meditation or yoga to keep your stress levels down.
Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse can have a huge impact on a person’s proclivity to abuse alcohol. Trauma can also come in the form of the loss of a loved one, exposure to war, natural disasters, or major accidents.
If you have experienced or are suffering from some type of trauma, reach out talk to someone. If you’re uncomfortable talking to a therapist, try to talk it out during group meetings or even talk to a friend who is a good listener. If you notice that problems persist, consider seeking professional therapy. Your mental health is paramount to your recovery.
4. Social Influences
If you associate with people who abuse alcohol, you will be more likely to abuse alcohol yourself. Pressures from advertising and perceived social acceptance can also affect people. Having parents who are alcoholics can influence a child to abuse alcohol. Many of those who currently struggle with alcoholism recall that they used to drink with their parents.
Take stock of your relationships, past and present, and if they seem to be unhealthy or counter intuitive don’t be afraid to cut ties. Start to cultivate relationships with people who view sobriety the same way you do. Being around like-minded people will bolster your chances for a successful recovery.
So what does all of this add up to?
Genetic, environmental, and social influences all play a part in alcoholism. There is no birth rite or life path that is sure to lead to, or away from, alcoholism. In fact, there are some people with all of these risk factors who never pick up a drink. However those who do become alcohol dependent will usually experience or exhibit one of the aforementioned risk factors. While the genetic factors can’t be changed, the environmental and social factors may be dealt with through behavioral changes and therapy. Creating a supportive environment, developing healthy coping skills, and processing trauma are all important to a successful recovery.
About the Author
Kathleen Esposito is a certified addictions counselor in the Pacific Northwest. She helps individuals recover from drug, alcohol and gambling dependencies through group and individual therapy and regularly speaks at treatment centers.