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Why Do People Use Alcohol?

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Watching someone you care about struggle with a drinking problem can be frustrating, as well as confusing. While most adults are able to moderate their drinking or choose not to drink at all, for others, drinking alcohol can become an addiction or a way to feel better. The reasons why people use alcohol can vary depending on a person’s individual life circumstances, environmental factors, and genetics. Understanding why you or someone in your life uses alcohol offers a chance for you to gain a fuller perspective on their struggles. This can also offer guidance on what type of treatment they may need. Alcohol use is a serious issue that can impact a person’s relationships, ability to work, as well as physical and mental health. If someone you know is unable to stop drinking and is experiencing harmful consequences as a result of it, professional treatment within a alcohol rehab program may be required.

Common Causes And Risk Factors For Alcohol Use

There is no singular cause or reason why people use alcohol. Personal factors such as the environment someone grew up in, family history, and the age a person began drinking can often play a role in alcohol-related issues. Pointing back to one or more causes for someone’s alcohol use is not always easy. Research on alcohol has shown that some people can be more susceptible to the effects of alcohol and more likely to become addicted. Factors that can influence how alcohol affects a person include:
  • age
  • family history
  • health status
  • how much you drink
  • how often you drink
The following are some of the most common risk factors and causes linked to alcohol use. These can offer insight into why one person may be more likely than another to use or become addicted to alcohol. [middle-callout]

Family History of Alcohol Use

Growing up with or around someone who used alcohol can have a strong influence on the habits you adopt as a teen and adult. This is partly because the ways others use or act around alcohol can affect how you view normal adult drinking habits. The amount of influence this has on your drinking can be even stronger if it is a close family member, such as a parent, who is or has previously used alcohol. Increased risk comes from both genetic and environmental factors. That is, you can be influenced by the drinking habits of those around you, but may also have inherited certain genes which can make you more likely to use alcohol than the general population. While genetic factors linked to alcohol use are still being studied, there is evidence that points to some degree of genetic predisposition.

Significant Life Stress Or Trauma

Everyone experiences some level of stress. How a person handles their stress, however, can be very different from one person to another. Most people find some sort of outlet to help them handle stress, such as a hobby, or going to therapy. Some people may also turn to substances like drugs or alcohol to cope with stress. As a depressant, alcohol can relax both the body and mind, dulling intense emotions and feelings of anxiety. Using alcohol for this purpose is a method of use, and can lead to more serious problems such as increased alcohol tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Examples of stressors that can trigger a person to turn to alcohol include:
  • relationship problems
  • divorce
  • loss of a loved one
  • work-related stress (including job loss)
  • legal problems
  • financial stress
In addition to this, trauma is another common underlying factor for people who use alcohol and other drugs. Experiences such as domestic use, witnessing a violent crime, sexual violence, or losing a loved one at an early age can all increase the risk of abusing alcohol.

Social Pressure

Many people, especially young adults, can feel pressured to have alcohol around others who are drinking. College students, for instance, are some of the most common binge-drinkers— a type of drinking that involves consuming heavy amounts of alcohol in a short window of time. This pressure to drink can be received in a variety of ways, either as a direct or indirect form of pressure. Examples of direct pressure include being:
  • bullied or teased for not drinking
  • offered incentives for drinking, such as money or an “in” with a social crowd
  • given multiple drinks without asking for them
Examples of indirect pressure:
  • getting more attention from someone (or multiple people) when you drink
  • being in environments that are only welcoming to those who drink alcohol (e.g. house parties, college parties, venues that only serve alcohol)
  • messaging from the media or a person that heavy drinking is “natural”, “cool”, and “normal”
For some, the social consequences of not drinking, or only drinking in moderate amounts, can feel isolating. Participating in socially acceptable binge-drinking activities can be one way people feel they are able to connect to friends, family, or peers. Unfortunately, if this is a common practice, it can also increase the risk for a person developing a more serious alcohol problem.

Effects Of Alcohol On The Brain

Alcohol affects areas of the brain that can make it difficult for a person who is abusing alcohol to quit drinking. In line with how alcohol can be used as a tool for stress relief, alcohol is known to interact with the reward system of the brain. This can make drinking feel rewarding, resulting in effects like feelings of pleasure, warmth, and lessened anxiety or fear. These effects, and how they occur in the brain, can reinforce urges to continue drinking. Alcohol is also believed to affect the area of the brain in charge of decision-making. To some extent, any person who drinks alcohol can experience this for themselves. Poor judgment and taking risks are common after drinking. People who use alcohol, however, may respond differently to the negative consequences of their drinking than others.

Having Another Mental Health Disorder

Substance use research shows that both drug and alcohol use is more common among people with at least one other mental illness than people without. Mental health disorders that commonly co-occur with alcohol use include:
  • clinical depression
  • anxiety disorders
  • panic disorder
  • schizophrenia
  • eating disorders
There are a few potential explanations for this. First is the escape that alcohol can offer for someone struggling with a severe mental illness. For some, alcohol can offer someone struggling with depression, anxiety, or symptoms of psychosis a way to distract from their current emotional and psychological struggles. However, alcohol can also eventually make these symptoms worse. Symptoms of alcohol use— such as insomnia, depression, and anxiety— can be even more magnified in people with other mental health problems. Thus, while alcohol may initially serve as a way to cope with symptoms of mental illness, over time it will only lead to more difficulty and pain. Alcohol use that is accompanied by another mental illness can be best treated with co-occurring disorder treatment. This is a specialized type of treatment designed to help people with more than one mental health or substance use disorder.

Helping Someone With An Alcohol Problem

Alcohol use is not a problem that most people can face or recover from alone. The most effective way to help a person who is abusing alcohol is to get them into treatment. At Vertava Health Texas rehab center, we offer both inpatient treatment for people struggling with drug or alcohol use. By assessing each person’s needs, our treatment specialists can provide recommendations for the most suitable level of care. Within an alcohol rehab program, patients can meet with a counselor, medical doctor, and other treatment specialists to address the ways their drinking has affected their health and wellbeing. Recovery from alcohol use is possible and begins with reaching out for help. Contact us today to learn more about treatment options for alcohol use and dependence in Texas.