Alcoholism Psychology Essay

Alcoholism is the chronic consumption of alcoholic beverages. It is also referred to as alcohol dependence syndrome and defines the characteristic behavior of alcoholics, i.e. impaired control over drinking that leads to loss of control over one’s life. There are numerous causes of alcoholism. The leading factors usually associated with alcoholism are genetics and psychological and social factors.

The Genetics of Alcoholism

There is a growing amount of scientific evidence that suggests genetics play a major role in alcoholism. Studies done by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism or NIAAA have explored the possibility of familial transmissions of the disease and that alcoholism is not solely a result of environmental factors. The research is based on a behavioral pattern that significantly occurs in families with a history of alcoholism. In a study, a certain DRD2 gene is associated with alcoholism. However, the connection of an actual gene is yet to be verified as one of the main causes of alcoholism.

Alcoholism in Families

In a study involving two pairs of twins nurtured by separate alcoholic adoptive parents, it was revealed that the incidence of alcoholism was dramatically higher in the pair of twins with an alcoholic biological father compared to the twins born of a non-alcoholic father. Incidence of alcoholism is also more likely to occur between identical twins, who share the same genetic components, compared to fraternal twins who share only 50% of their genes.

Other similar scientific studies have shown that children of alcoholics are more likely to develop alcohol problems compared to the general population. The same children are also more exposed to environmental factors and are more at-risk to develop emotional and behavioral problems. Similarly, the prevalence of alcoholism in first-degree relatives is three to four times more compared to the general population.

However, it must be noted that in these studies not all children of alcoholics become alcoholics. In addition, some twins who participated in the study and have a family history of alcoholism did not show symptoms or traces of alcohol problems. It cannot be concluded that the causes of alcoholism in families are purely by genetic components. If you want to know more about the prevalence of alcoholism in families, call 1-888-287-0471 Who Answers? . You can get useful information about the biological or genetic causes of alcoholism on this 24/7 hotline number.

Many studies have been conducted to know if alcohol is hereditary. Scientific evidence is presented, and more data are expected to follow. However, the actual genetic component is yet to be identified. Moreover, not all studies show the connection between alcohol and certain mental or affective disorders. Most of the genetic studies are also conducted in animals. Nevertheless, it is safe to assume that genetics play a role in alcoholism, by how much is yet to be determined.

Even if a person has a long family history of alcoholism it does not mean that he or she will become an alcoholic. Alcoholism remains to be a result of environmental and genetic factors. Genetics only increased the risk of being one but it doesn’t have to shape a person’s destiny. If anything, it can lead to early prevention instead of becoming an obstruction.

Psychological Causes of Alcoholism

Many alcoholics drink alcohol to improve their moods and restore their spirits. However, heavy alcohol consumption can deplete the stores of serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that produce feelings such as euphoria and a sense of calm and happiness. Even so, alcoholics continue to drink alcohol in the belief that it can reinstate their sense of well-being.

Like other illicit drugs and substances, alcohol can cause psychological dependence. It affects the central nervous system and acts with certain neurons or nerve cells in the brain. The neurotransmitters in the brain are also affected with long-term alcohol consumption. When a person suddenly stops drinking alcohol, these neurotransmitters can overexcite the nervous system and cause agitation, which can lead to palpitations and high blood pressure. An alcoholic resumes drinking to prevent these withdrawal symptoms from occurring.

One of the main causes of alcoholism is binge drinking to forget life’s struggles and problems. Many alcoholics drink in the hope that they will be able to forget their problems by drinking large quantities of alcohol. A person who drinks irresponsibly may develop alcohol tolerance in the long run. The more a person drinks, the more he or she becomes more alcohol tolerant. This can lead to greater alcohol consumption, and then later, to alcoholism.  

Do not think twice to ask for help when you know someone is abusing alcohol. Call 1-888-287-0471 Who Answers? to get 24 hours of assistance and advice on how to help someone get over alcohol addiction.

Alcoholism and Depression

Depression is another psychological disorder being studied as one of the causes of alcoholism. Alcoholism and depression can coexist. This is obvious among alcoholics who demonstrate various mood swings when drunk. Some alcohol dependents and alcohol abusers are also more affected by acute withdrawal symptoms, which can then lead to anxiety and depression. The interaction of alcohol and affective disorders may be linked genetically or may exist as a result of the other. For example, a person with a case of anxiety or depression disorder may drink alcohol to cope with the condition. Similarly, an alcoholic may display symptoms of depression as a result of drinking.

“…alcoholism and depression manifest phenotypes or related traits, which can be linked to the same genes” The Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA) found that alcoholism and depression manifest phenotypes or related traits, which can be linked to the same genes or DNA. Because depression is a genetic disorder, it is possible that alcoholism is genetic as well. The study showed significant evidence that a certain chromosome may influence people with the said chromosome to be more predisposed to alcoholism and depression. COGA researchers have also discovered that certain brain wave patterns are shaped genetically, which can be one of the causes of alcoholism among people who are psychologically unstable.

Another research presented by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) also reported that alcoholism is twice as prevalent in families with a history of affective disorders. The prevalence of alcoholism is raised sevenfold among female family members with major affective disorders.

Causes of Alcoholism in Young People

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Underage Drinking Research Initiative (NIAAA-UDRI) approximately 5,000 young adults under the age of 21 die due to underage drinking.

  • 1,900 died from vehicular crashes or accidents
  • 1,600 died as a result of homicide
  • 300 died from suicide
  • remaining people died from other injuries, such as burns, falls, and drowning

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also reported in 2011 that 26.4 percent of persons aged 12 to 21 consumed alcohol drinks in the last 30 days. Binge drinking in this group is 17.4 percent.

Alcohol is prevalent among young adults, and it is more accepted and pervasive compared to illicit drugs like marijuana and over-the-counter medications. According to NIAAA, a young person drinks because his or her friends drink alcohol. It is a manner of adapting to their environment and as a way to confirm their increasing independence. It can be easily concluded that one of the strong causes of alcoholism among young people is peer pressure. You can also call 1-888-287-0471 Who Answers? > for more information about alcohol addiction causes among teenagers.This 24-hour free hotline can also provide useful information on treatment and recovery options for teenagers and adults who are suffering from alcohol abuse or alcoholism.

Teenagers are more vulnerable to peer pressure, as they are still learning to control their behaviors and impulses. They often find it hard to resist peer pressure especially from older and more experienced people. It is important to guide children and teenagers about the positive and negative impacts of peer pressure, as well as the consequences of underage alcohol drinking.

Causes of Alcoholism in Adults

According to the data presented by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) in 2010, 50.9 percent of people aged 18 and above are regular alcohol drinkers, while 13.6 percent are infrequent alcohol drinkers. Overall, 23 percent of adults aged 18 and above drink more than five alcoholic drinks in one day. Almost 60 percent of men are current regular drinkers. It is also reported that more men are former regular drinkers, while women tend to be current or former drinkers.

Peer pressure often persists in adulthood. Sadly, many adults still carry the wounds and scars from their younger years. These same people often make decisions for the purpose of gaining respect from their colleagues and superiors. They still go on binge-drinking nights and sprees to be tagged as popular, hip, and cool.

Adults also need help when it comes to social pressure and alcoholism. It is best to call 1-888-287-0471 Who Answers? and get professional help on how to combat social pressure at work. You can also call this number if you are seeking information about various causes of alcoholism, health disorders caused by alcohol dependence and abuse, and recovery options for alcoholics and alcohol abusers.

Research Finds Alcohol Is the Most Treated Substance

Ethanol, or alcohol, is abused more than any other drug among those engaged in treatment, as a 2017 survey by Recovery Brands revealed. Out of all the survey responses, nearly 70% of people went to treatment because of an alcohol problem, and a surprising 52.87% of respondents sought the most treatment for alcohol abuse. Despite the wide variety of abused substances individuals seek treatment for, ethanol seems to cause the most widespread damage. Fortunately, help is widely available. Call our helpline at 1-888-287-0471 Who Answers? to begin recovering from substance abuse today.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is the difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism?

Alcohol abuse is continued consumption of great amounts of alcohol even if it is causing personal, social, and financial problems for the drinker. Alcohol dependence, on the other hand, is a result of long-term alcohol abuse. Alcohol dependence is the continued drinking of alcohol to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol dependents or alcoholics often develop progressive tolerance to alcohol, which can lead to severe health problems.


What are the symptoms of alcoholism?

Alcoholics often display four symptoms. This includes craving or the strong desire to drink, loss of control or the inability to stop drinking once it has begun, physical dependence or withdrawal symptoms, and tolerance or the need to consume huge amounts of alcoholic drinks to feel the defined effect of alcohol.


What are the causes of alcoholism?

Alcoholism can be caused by several factors, including genetics, social pressure, and psychological factors. Culture and various environmental factors can also cause alcohol abuse and dependence.


Is alcoholism a sickness or disease?

Yes, alcoholism is a disease. It is categorized as a dependence syndrome by the World Health Organization. It can develop after repeated alcohol abuse.


Are there any medications to treat alcoholism?

There are currently three medications indicated for alcoholism: disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate. These medications help alcohol dependents in reducing their alcohol cravings, prevent or reduce withdrawal symptoms, and maintain sobriety.Other types of drugs like benzodiazepines can also help relieve harsh withdrawal symptoms induced by alcohol detoxification. These drugs can help control nausea, sweating, shakiness, and other symptoms.


Will these medications work for any alcoholic?

Some medications may work for alcohol dependents, while other alcoholics may require alternative medication. This usually occurs when an alcoholic develops certain diseases due to alcohol abuse. A different alcohol medication is also prescribed for people with psychological disorders. The medications can also change depending on the causes of alcoholism.


Are there other treatments for alcoholism?

Chronic alcohol abusers and alcohol dependents can choose to attend an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation center to recover completely from the disease. Alcohol rehab centers provide unique programs for each patient to be able to address the patient’s individual needs. People with pre-existing physical or mental illness are also recommended to enter an alcohol rehab center so they can get special medical attention. An alcoholic who does not want to enter a rehabilitation center can join a local support group like Alcoholics Anonymous.


Who are the groups of people more likely to have alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a disease that cuts across race, nationality, and gender. In the United States alone, adults aged 18 to 29 have the highest percentage of alcohol problems. Teenagers are also at risk, as the alcoholism trend among younger people seems to increase every year. The elderly aged 65 and above show the lowest percentage.


What can I do to help an alcoholic?

Alcoholism is a treatable disease, but it can result in severe health problems if ignored. If you or a loved one is an alcoholic or abusing alcohol, do not hesitate to call 1-888-287-0471 Who Answers? . This is a free helpline where you can get information about the causes of alcoholism, options to recovery, and various treatment methods.


Fun Facts!

Did You Know?

The United States’ national anthem, the “Star-Spangled Banner,” was composed to the tune of a drinking song.

Did You Know?

Fear of alcohol is called Methyphobia.

Did You Know?

Almost all fruit juices and many kinds of vegetables contain alcohol.

Did You Know?

There is a cloud of alcohol 10,000 light years away from the Earth.

So how do people get addicted to alcohol anyway? The recent contributions of science and medicine during the past 50-60 years have greatly advanced our understanding of alcoholism. We are beginning to understand the biological forces that affect behavior (both humans and animals). Addiction is easier to understand when we consider that our biology programs us to pursue and repeat pleasurable experiences. However, we are not slaves to our biology. The unrestrained pursuit of pleasure represents a type of developmental immaturity as depicted in the classic story of Peter Pan. Therefore, psychological, socio-cultural, and spiritual factors influence whether we mature beyond our biological limitations. Until fairly recently, people with addictive disorders such as alcoholism were viewed as selfish, weak-willed folks. They seemed to behave badly without regard for themselves, or others. People with addictive problems will tell you, willpower is not enough. As we will soon see, our biological make-up explains why this is so.

Advancements in neurobiological research have changed the way we view addiction. Addiction is no longer limited to problematic substance use. We now know that certain activities can also be addictive (sex, gambling). This is because addiction is a problem of brain functioning. We become addicted to the chemicals our brain releases, not the substance or activity that causes this release. Our genetics greatly determine our brain functioning.

The American Society of Addictions Medicine (ASAM) is the nation's largest professional society of addiction physicians. ASAM is dedicated to treating and preventing addiction. ASAM recently released (August 15, 2011) a new definition of addiction. It states that genetics account for about 50% of the likelihood that someone will develop an addiction . This ASAM definition of addiction describes addiction as a "chronic disease of the brain." This is quite different from our own definition.

It remains controversial whether or not we should reduce addiction to a "chronic disease of the brain." Nevertheless, there is strong evidence to suggest a genetic component to addiction.   Clearly, addiction does not develop merely because someone is weak-willed.  Addicted persons do not choose their genetics. Therefore, they do not control whether they are at risk for developing an addiction.

Although our biological make-up is a powerful influence, we are not slaves to our biology.  In other words, our biology does not completely drive our behavior.  People are certainly capable of choosing recovery over addiction.  This makes addictive disorders very similar to other diseases and disorders.  Many health problems require lifestyle changes to restore health.  For instance, people with diabetes must regularly check blood sugar levels and count carbohydrates.   People with heart disease must choose a healthier diet and an exercise program.  Obviously, these folks did not choose to have these health challenges. However, but they most certainly do choose how to handle them.  The same is true for people with addictions such as alcoholism.

The brain is the most dynamic and complex organ in our bodies.  The brain's proper functioning ensures our very survival.  When our brains functions well, we are constantly adapting to our environment (our surroundings).  Ironically, it is the brain's ability to be so adaptive that contributes to the formation of addiction.   Alcoholism causes changes to the brain in at least four fundamental ways:

 1. Alcoholism causes changes to the brain's natural balance (homeostasis).
 2. Alcoholism alters brain chemistry.
 3. Alcoholism changes the brain's communication patterns.
 4. Alcoholism causes changes to brain structures and their functioning.

The addictions topic center explains these ways that addiction affects the brain in much greater detail.

Many of the symptoms we commonly associate with addiction are due to these changes in the brain:

1. Changes to the brain's cerebral cortex are associated with impaired decision-making, impulsivity, and compulsivity.  These changes make it more likely that you will take a drink, or have difficulty resisting the urge to drink.  

2. The brain's reward system is responsible for drug-seeking, and cravings.  From an evolutionary point of view, the brain's reward system ensures the survival of our species.  We are more likely to repeat behaviors that are pleasurable (such as eating and sex).  Unfortunately, addictions hijack this healthy function.  People become addicted because they experience alcohol effects as pleasurable.  This function of the brain makes relapse more likely even though people have good intentions to stop drinking.

3. The brain's amygdala is associated with memory and emotion.  Certain "cues" are stored as positive or negative memories.  For example, let's suppose someone always comes home and fixes a drink.  Coming home, and the time (finishing work) now serve as cues to drink because these cues are stored as a positive memory associated with alcohol.  When someone tries to stop drinking, these cues serve as powerful motivators to drink despite someone's best intentions to refrain from use.  Likewise, people often describe alcohol addiction as a habit, and one that is difficult to break.  When people attempt to discontinue an addiction like alcoholism, they can experience withdrawal.  The memory of withdrawal is such an unpleasant experience that it serves as a powerful motivator (or cue) to resume the addictive behavior to avoid the unpleasant experience.  Eventually, the relief from withdrawal (by resuming use) becomes pleasurable in and of itself.  These relapse triggers are due to the amygdala's effect on memory and emotions.  

4. Alcohol's effect on the brain's hypothalamus creates problems with stress regulation.  People often drink to relieve stress.  Since withdrawal from alcohol is itself stressful, this creates a vicious cycle.  Stopping alcohol use creates stress, but the use of alcohol diminished the brain's ability to regulate stress.

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