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Why can some people drink heavily and never become alcoholics when other people get addicted so quickly?

Contributing Factors to the Development of Alcoholism

Why some people can use and even abuse alcohol without ever developing alcoholism, and why some people seem unusually susceptible to alcoholism, remains a poorly understood phenomenon.


There is a genetic component to alcoholism, and people who grow up in alcoholic homes are far more likely to become alcoholics themselves. Children born to alcoholic parents, but raised in homes without alcohol abuse or addiction are also predisposed to alcoholism, so we do know that genetics plays an important role. But all people genetically predisposed to alcoholism do not develop dependencies, and some people with no genetic history of alcoholism end up battling the disease for years. It is now accepted that although a genetic predisposition plays an important influence in the development of the disease, that social and environmental factors are in fact the lager influences towards alcohol abuse or alcoholism.

In addition to genetic influences, the Mayo Clinic considers that there are three additional primary influences to alcohol abuse or alcoholism.

Emotional States or Emotional Stressors can Induce Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

People may use alcohol excessively in response to frequent or significant emotional disturbances or stresses. When alcohol is used with enough frequency as an emotional management or stress coping tool the risk of dependency or alcoholism increases greatly. There is also likely a bio physical link with stress and alcohol abuse, and stress hormones have been casually linked to increased alcohol consumption and a greater risk for alcoholism.

People who use alcohol to deal with life's problems or stresses are at a greater risk to develop alcoholism.

The Co-Presence of a Corresponding Psychiatric Condition

People suffering through psychiatric conditions like depression, bi polar disorder, borderline personality disorder or anxiety disorders are at a greatly elevated risk to develop alcohol abuse problems or alcoholism. Psychiatric patients often use alcohol or other illicit drugs to self medicate the negative symptoms of an experienced disorder. Unfortunately, while intoxication may bring some temporary relief, the long term effects of alcohol abuse almost always worsen experienced psychiatric symptoms. Alcoholic psychiatric patients are at a great risk for an accelerated progression of both diseases, and require immediate interventions and treatment.

In addition to clinical psychiatric conditions, non clinical, but still significant factors such as low self esteem can also increase the likelihood to alcohol abuse, and ultimately alcoholism. Alcohol is rarely an effective long term coping strategy.

Social Environmental Factors

As a society, largely due to billions of dollars invested in alcohol advertising campaigns, there is a perception of alcohol being associated with glamour, attractiveness and success, and these lingering subconscious perceptions may influence people to try alcohol at a young age and continue to drink more than they should throughout life.

The immediate environment can also increase the probability of alcoholism. People who socialize, or live romantically with a person who drinks to excess, whether dependent or not, are far more likely to also drink heavily, and put themselves at risk for alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

Even the neighborhood around the home seems to influence consumption patterns, and people brought up in or who reside in neighborhoods of heavy abuse are also more likely to use and abuse alcohol themselves.

Nothing about alcoholism is completely understood, and all we know is that the variables that can induce alcohol abuse and ultimately alcoholism are many, and that what may cause alcohol dependence in one, seem to have little influence over another. We all present with an individual risk profile for our susceptibility to the disease, although those people with a genetic history of alcoholism are undoubtedly at an increased risk to develop the disease.

Regardless of the factors that may induce the occurrence of the disease, the treatments are essentially the same, and alcoholics need intervention, intensive treatment, and long term aftercare therapies. Most alcoholics will never be capable of drinking in moderation, and abstinence is the only recommended philosophy of use for people with alcoholic histories.

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Page last updated Sep 28, 2015

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