Alcoholism is the fourth leading cause of preventable death in the United States. In spite of the prevalence of alcoholism, many people still wonder, “Is alcohol addictive?”

Alcohol can most certainly be addictive, and it is estimated that at least 3 million people around the world die from alcohol use each year. Alcohol addiction has both physical and psychological causes, as well as internal and external risk factors.

Physical Addiction to Alcohol

Physical addiction to alcohol is caused by the chemical response in the brain to alcohol. Studies show that alcohol interacts with receptors in the brain called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors.

These receptors stimulate opioid receptors in the brain, releasing chemicals called endorphins that cause pleasure or euphoria. This sensation can cause an increased desire for alcohol and create persistent alcohol cravings. Additionally, GABA receptors also promote a relaxed feeling and can help create a state of decreased inhibition and relaxation that can lead to increased alcohol consumption.

Psychological Addiction to Alcohol

Addiction to alcohol can also have a psychological cause when someone uses alcohol to cope with a psychological need. For instance, someone who feels unhappy with their boss and work environment may use alcohol to cope with that unhappiness.

Alcohol use helps people cope with a variety of psychological needs, but this makes people using alcohol dependent upon it to cope with psychological needs and removes the pressure to develop other, more healthy, coping mechanisms.

Alcohol Addiction Risk Factors

“Why do people get addicted to alcohol?” is a commonly asked question. There are several internal and external risk factors that contribute to the development of alcohol addiction, and these can be related to genetics and environment.

Internal Risk Factors of Alcoholism

  • Genetic factors, including a family history of alcoholism
  • Mental health conditions
  • Being in a sexual minority group
  • Trauma
  • Stress

External Risk Factors of Alcoholism

  • Upbringing (e.g., being raised in a home with alcohol abuse)
  • Environmental pressures
  • Peer pressure and drinking at a young age
  • Lack of social support
  • Injury
  • Bariatric surgery
  • Poverty
  • Incarceration
  • Mixing alcohol with medications

Hereditary Factors Lead to Alcoholism

Hereditary factors that lead to alcoholism are factors that are caused by genetics. Genetic factors account for about half of the reasons that people become addicted to alcohol.

Someone who may otherwise be unlikely to face alcohol addiction may become dependent on alcohol because of genetics, even with initially light social drinking. These genetic influences play a significant role in the development of addiction but are often combined with environmental factors.

People who are more at risk of developing alcoholism from genetic factors are those with parents or grandparents who struggled with alcoholism, or people who grew up in a home where alcohol abuse occurred.

Social Factors Lead to Alcoholism

In addition to genetic factors, there are also social factors that can lead to alcoholism. These factors include:

  • Being in an environment that promotes the consumption of large amounts of alcohol
  • Peer pressure, especially among teens
  • Being in a sexual minority group
  • Having a friend group that normally drinks heavily

Being in situations where alcohol is commonly used can allow addiction to alcohol to develop.

Key Points: What Makes Alcohol Addictive?

There are several reasons why alcohol is addictive. Some of the key points for the addictive nature of alcoholism include:

  • Alcoholism is the fourth leading cause of preventable death
  • Alcoholism can develop because of the chemical interactions in the brain
  • Alcoholism can develop when alcohol is used to cope with psychological needs
  • The factors that lead to alcoholism can be both environmental and genetic

If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction to alcohol or are using alcohol, even though you know you should quit, then you should consider seeking professional help. The Recovery Village has a strong track record of helping people to overcome their addictions to alcohol. Reach out to one of our understanding addiction specialists today to learn how you can start on your path to recovery.