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Alcohol & Health
Helping Alcoholics
Where Does My Call Go?
Updated on September 18, 2023
7 min read

Why Do People Become Alcoholics?

People who drink moderately may be able to say no to alcohol. They may go between drinks for days, weeks, months, or even years.

However, an individual who struggles with drinking may struggle to avoid alcohol consumption. They may drink alcohol compulsively every day.

Alcohol addiction is not a one-size-fits-all condition. Alcoholics begin drinking for various reasons. However, alcoholics generally continue to drink because they develop alcohol dependence and become physically addicted.

Physical Factors that Cause Alcoholism

Here are some of the physical factors that may lead to alcoholism:

Intense Alcohol Cravings

As people develop alcohol dependence, they normally experience urges or cravings for alcohol. This refers to a wide range of thoughts, physical sensations, or emotions that push you to drink, even if you do not want to.

Those with intense cravings may experience an uncomfortable pull in two directions or sense a loss of control regarding alcohol.

Drinking to Prevent Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol addiction is a diagnosable brain disease. It’s characterized by a specific set of symptoms. It’s also a chronic, relapsing disease.

This means that while recovery is possible, a recovering alcoholic must work hard to beat the disease.

Recovering alcoholics often experience challenging withdrawal symptoms that make it easy to relapse. In many cases, those suffering from alcoholism relapse to prevent alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

A more severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens can lead to:

  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Severe confusion

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Neurological Factors that Cause Alcoholism

Here are some of the neurological factors that may cause alcoholism:

Brain Changes

With time, consistent drinking can change the brain. The brain can respond differently to the outside world than it usually would.

One of the parts of the brain known to adjust from long-term drinking is the prefrontal-striatal-limbic circuit. This area of the brain controls emotions, decision-making, and stress. It can be affected following long-term drinking.

Alcohol abuse can also adversely affect the ventral striatum part of the brain. This part of the brain processes reward expectation and reward prediction errors. Dopamine, the feel-good chemical, stops working well in the ventral striatum when you struggle with alcohol abuse.

People with poor drinking habits also have fewer brain cells than usual in the brain's prefrontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex. This is the area of the brain responsible for decision-making.

Specific Chemical Imbalances in the Brain

The neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals, of people struggling with heavy drinking can differ from other people. Drinking alcohol causes a change in the way certain brain chemicals function, leading to imbalances.

  • Gamma-aminobutyric Acid (GABA): Alcohol consumption depresses the central nervous system by increasing the levels of GABA.
  • Glutamate: Alcohol consumption suppresses glutamate chemical levels, further depressing the central nervous system.
  • Dopamine: Alcohol increases dopamine, which makes us feel good. That's why after drinking, people often want to continue.
  • Serotonin: Alcohol also increases serotonin levels, a chemical linked to a sense of well-being and a good mood.

Emotional Factors that Cause Alcoholism

Here are some of the emotional factors of alcoholism:

Drinking to Suppress Negative Emotions

Some people drink as a coping mechanism to help them deal with difficult situations. 

Unfortunately, drinking alcohol is a coping mechanism in which the long-term adverse effects significantly outweigh the temporary benefits.

These negative effects include, but are not limited to:

  • Health problems
  • Impacts on relationships with friends and family members
  • Poor decision-making under the influence of alcohol
  • Increased alcohol dependency
  • Financial issues

People may use alcohol to deal with:

  • Difficult emotions
  • Challenging life events such as the death of a loved one, a breakup, or an illness
  • Boredom
  • Stress
  • Insomnia
  • Trauma or PTSD symptoms
  • Social anxiety

Drinking to Cope with Stress

Many people deal with stress by turning to alcohol. Drinking alcohol may result in temporary positive feelings and relaxation. 

However, problems usually occur when stress is ongoing, and someone tries to deal with it by consuming more alcohol.

Drinking to Numb Mental Health Issues

Some people use alcohol to manage symptoms of a mental health issue. This is known as ‘self-medicating.

People may know they have a mental health problem but don’t know a healthier way to cope with it and turn to alcohol instead. Someone may also have an undiagnosed mental health issue and use alcohol to deal with it.

While self-medicating mental health issues may provide some relief in the short-term, it only worsens problems in the long-term. Regular self-medication can lead to alcohol addiction, worsening mental health disorders, and increased health problems.


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Environmental Factors that Cause Alcoholism

Here are environmental factors that may cause alcoholism:

Easy Access to Alcohol

A person’s environment plays a huge role in developing alcohol use disorder. 

Those who live near alcohol establishments, bars, and retail stores have easy access to alcohol. They’re more likely to participate in drinking activities.

Early Exposure to Alcohol

Early alcohol exposure can also influence alcoholism. 

Alcohol manufacturers show advertisements that depict drinking as a relaxing, fun, and acceptable pastime. This is very attractive to people of all ages.

If a person grew up in an alcoholic home, there’s a high chance of developing alcoholism.


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Biological Factors that Cause Alcoholism

Genetics and physiology are closely linked to alcoholism. While some people have no problems limiting their alcohol intake, others cannot seem to resist the strong impulse to continue drinking.

For some people, the pleasure they get from drinking beer or liquor encourages their brains to keep repeating the behavior. This repetitive behavior puts a person at a higher risk of developing alcoholism.

Scientists have suggested that alcohol dependence might be related to approximately 51 genes in different chromosome regions. If passed on from generation to generation, family members are more susceptible to developing drinking problems.

Other Risk Factors of Alcoholism

Other risk factors may increase your risk of developing an alcohol substance abuse disorder.

Some known risk factors include:

  • Consuming more than 15 drinks per week if you are male or more than 12 drinks per week if you are female
  • Consuming more than five drinks per day at least once a week (binge drinking)
  • Having a parent or close relative with an alcohol use disorder
  • Having a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia
  • Being a young adult experiencing peer pressure
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Experiencing a high level of stress
  • Living in a culture or family where alcohol consumption is common

Why Do Others Not Become Alcoholics?

Some people can consume alcohol in large amounts without developing an addiction or alcoholism because of the following factors:

  • Unique biology
  • Background
  • Psychology
  • Genetics

Developing alcoholism has nothing to do with willpower. It’s a disease that can impact anyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, body type, or personal beliefs.

To avoid developing alcoholism, drink responsibly or avoid alcohol entirely. Understanding the risks of developing AUD can also help you avoid it.

Can Alcoholism Go Away on Its Own?

In most cases, alcoholism doesn’t go away on its own. However, though there is no easy ‘cure’ for an alcohol use disorder, the condition is treatable.

Ongoing treatment from healthcare providers and continued recovery efforts can help manage an alcohol use disorder and prevent relapse.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Addiction

Receiving treatment can increase a person’s chances of successfully overcoming AUD. Treatment options for AUD include:

To find alcohol addiction treatment, talk to a medical professional. They can diagnose your addiction and recommend the right treatment.


  • Alcohol addiction is a serious condition that affects millions of people.
  • Physical, neurological, emotional, environmental, and biological factors all influence alcohol addiction.
  • It's important to understand the risk factors of alcohol addiction and how the condition develops.
  • This knowledge can help you take steps to avoid AUD or seek help if you are struggling with addiction.
  • Various treatment options are available to help individuals manage their addiction and live healthier lives.
Updated on September 18, 2023
7 sources cited
Updated on September 18, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Seo, D., and Sinha, R. “Neuroplasticity and Predictors of Alcohol Recovery.” Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 2015. 
  2.  "Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2020.
  3. "Drinking Levels Defined," National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  4. "Handling urges to drink, Rethinking Drinking, Alcohol and Your Health." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  5. Anker et al. “Drinking to cope with negative emotions moderates alcohol use disorder treatment response in patients with co-occurring anxiety disorder.” Drug and alcohol dependence, 2015. 
  6. "The Link Between Stress and Alcohol." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  7. "Alcohol withdrawal." MedlinePlus, 2021.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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