The social determinants of alcohol abuse include risk factors like mental health disorders, trauma, association with deviant peers, and parents abusing alcohol.

Alcohol abuse doesn’t just happen out of the blue. There are situations that an individual may encounter throughout their life that can significantly impact whether or not they drink and to what extent.

A person’s family life, school, peers, and work can all considerably influence their drinking habits. Here, we’ll discuss the social determinants of alcohol abuse and, more specifically, the risk factors that lead to alcohol addiction.

Article at a Glance:

Genetic studies indicate that about half of the risk of developing an alcohol addiction is the result of genes.

Environmental factors, such as access to alcohol within the family home, can increase the risk of alcohol abuse.

Factors like trauma, association with deviant peers and co-occurring mental health conditions are other factors that can contribute to alcohol abuse.

Social & Environmental Factors of Alcoholism

Scientists have been trying to determine for years if there is an “alcoholic gene” or another marker that would make someone more likely to become dependent on alcohol. According to a review of the latest research on genes and alcoholism, the heritability of alcohol use disorder is 49%, meaning that almost half of the risk of alcoholism is due to genetic factors. The shared environment in which members of the same family live accounts for 10% of the risk of alcoholism, suggesting that genetics are a stronger risk factor than the environment.

Factors That Cause Alcoholism

While genetics play a role in alcoholism, they are only responsible for about half of a person’s risk of the disorder. Some of the key risk factors listed below can contribute to the risk of an alcohol use disorder beyond genetics.

Family and Home Life

A person’s home life plays a huge role in whether or not they’ll struggle with alcoholism.

Parents and older siblings who drink can set the stage for the drinking habits of the children, whether they intend to or not. 

If children have early exposure to alcohol because parents or older siblings bring alcohol into the home, they are also more likely to struggle with the substance later in life. In fact, a report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism indicates that adults aged 26 and above who started drinking prior to age 15 are 5.6 times more likely to experience an alcohol use disorder in a given year when compared to those who waited until the legal age of 21 to drink.

On the other hand, parents can decrease a child’s risk of alcoholism by warning them about the dangers of drinking early on. Studies have also shown that when parents are actively involved in their children’s lives, the children are less likely to abuse alcohol.

School and Peers

The student’s school can be instrumental in whether or not they begin using drugs or alcohol, and the risk of alcohol abuse doesn’t just occur at parties. Students who drink may encourage or pressure their friends to join in, sometimes even on school grounds. Students with poor social or coping skills may be more at risk for drinking to deal with stress or fit in with peers. One study found that teens who are connected to their schools are less likely to binge drink. On the other hand, becoming involved with deviant peers increases the risk of a substance use disorder.


Traumatic experiences can contribute significantly to the development of alcohol use disorders. One study found that post-traumatic stress disorder was linked to an earlier onset of drinking, increased alcohol consumption and experiencing alcoholic blackouts. People may turn to alcohol to attempt to cope with lingering symptoms of trauma.

Work and Income

When you’re not making enough to make ends meet, things can feel hopeless. You might start to look for relief with alcohol. Research has confirmed that unemployment is strongly related to drinking.

Alternatively, many people drink as a way to wind down after a stressful workday. Around 8.7% of full-time workers aged 18–64 report using alcohol heavily within a given month, with the highest rates seen among mining workers (17.5%) and construction workers (16.5%).

Mental Health

Having a mental health disorder can also increase a person’s alcohol abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about half of people who have a mental illness have experienced a substance use disorder at some point during their lives and vice versa.

While not an obvious social factor, mental health can heavily influence how individuals interact with the people around them and how well they can manage in their environment.

When substance use disorder occurs along with a mental health disorder, it’s called a “co-occurring disorder” or “dual diagnosis.” It’s very common, but many recovery centers are not properly equipped to treat both disorders in an individualized program. At The Recovery Village, we offer dual diagnosis treatment to make sure patients with multiple disorders are given the customized care they need.

How Can Alcohol Abuse Be Prevented?

Alcoholism is a disease that takes on a life of its own. As it develops, it impairs the individual’s ability to make sound decisions and exert self-control. That said, the initial decision to drink is usually voluntary, and specific factors can help an individual make the healthy choice to avoid alcohol abuse.

Below are the “protective factors” outlined by NIDA that tend to correlate with a healthy relationship with alcohol:

  • Good self-control
  • Parental monitoring and support
  • Positive social relationships
  • Academic competence
  • School anti-drug policies
  • Resources within the neighborhood

When Does Drinking Become Problematic?

When does casual drinking become a problem? Read these 5 Signs You Have a Drinking Problem. Identifying a problem with alcohol in yourself or a loved one can be difficult. Take this short quiz to know whether you need to seek treatment.

If you or a loved one is seeking treatment for alcohol abuse, The Recovery Village is here to help. We have locations across the country, and we’re qualified to treat both alcohol addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions. Contact us today to learn about our treatment programs. 

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Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more

B. Verhulst, M.C. Neale, & K.S. Kendler. “The heritability of alcohol use disorder[…]nd adoption studies.” Psychological Medicine, August 29, 2014. Accessed August 6, 2021.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Underage drinking.” May 2021. Accessed August 6, 2021.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is comorbidity?” August 2018. Accessed August 6, 2021.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is drug addiction?” July 2020. Accessed August 6, 2021.

Popovici, Ioana and French, Michael T. “Does unemployment lead to greater alcohol consumption?” Industrial Relations, April 2013. Accessed August 6, 2021.

Prasad Neopane, Sudan. “Comorbid post-traumatic stress disorder […] neuroimmune profile.” BMC Psychiatry, 2017. Accessed August 6, 2021.

Price, Julie, et al. “Association With Deviant Peers Across Ad[…]d Long-Term Outcomes.” Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 2019. Accessed August 6, 2021.

Bush, Donna M. and Lipari, Rachel N. “Substance use and substance use disorder by industry.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, April 16, 2015. Accessed August 6, 2021.

Weatherson, Katie A., et al. “The Protective Effects of School Connectedness on Substance Use and Physical Activity.” Journal of Adolescent Health, December 2018. Accessed August 6, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.