Causes of Alcoholism

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited:  JANUARY 24,
| 4 Sources

Physicians have been trying to understand the causes of alcoholism in order to better help people struggling with this addiction.

What they’ve discovered is that there is no one answer to the question of what causes alcoholism. However, on-going studies indicate that there are various factors that increase the chances of alcohol dependency.

For example, simply drinking alcohol consistently can become one of the causes of alcoholism, but typically this combines with other factors that work differently in each individual.

Considering that humankind has been consuming alcohol for approximately 12,000 years in a wide variety of cultures, its no surprise that finding positive ways of coping with this disease is difficult and sometimes daunting.

However, for those living with substance abuse, understanding what causes alcoholism may be the first step to recovery. Education and acceptance are half the battle. Let’s look at some of the things that physicians recognize as causes or contributing factors to alcoholism:


Gender is one of the possible causes of alcoholism. Men seem more prone to dependence than women, but it takes more drinks weekly for addiction to manifest.

A man who has 15 weekly drinks is moving into high-risk territory; 12 drinks a week is the level at which women show a higher tendency toward becoming addicted.


Research into what causes alcoholism confirms that the younger a person starts drinking, the higher their chances of dependency become. Like the other puzzle-pieces we’re exploring this as only one part of a larger picture, but one well worth remembering when dealing with young people who over-indulge

. By itself youthful drinking won’t necessarily lead to addition. However, the social/peer pressures of young drinking shouldn’t be overlooked.

DNA & Family History

Genetic factors play a significant role in alcoholism. In fact it’s estimated that genetics accounts for at least fifty percent of the total risk for alcoholism. To illustrate: if your family members have a high tolerance for alcohol that often means you do too. This tolerance leads to over indulgence, and in turn can become one of the causes of alcoholism.

Alcoholism appears to be hereditary. This means that genes play a role in the development of this condition, and people with certain genetic variations may be more likely to develop alcoholism than those without them.

Parental alcohol abuse during childhood or adolescence doubles or triples the risk that their children will become alcohol dependent later on. If alcoholism runs in your family, you know the potential health hazards all too well - but there are ways around it if you understand what causes alcoholism and learn how to cope as a healthy individual.

The complexity of this disease, however, reveals that Genes alone cannot be blamed for the struggle. Other issues like environment, personal physiology, etc. are also part of what causes alcoholism.

Brain Drain

Alcohol changes brain chemistry. That means when a person decreases or ceases alcohol consumption, the brain may “crave” more to avoid stress and increase the sense of peace or pleasure it gets from the alcohol. This makes it more difficult to stop drinking, and certainly contributes to alcoholism.

It works like this:

The brain is made up of neurons and glial cells. These components communicate through chemicals like serotonin, dopamine and glutamate. Alcohol can alter the chemical balance in the brain by blocking or slowing down communication between these key players. Eventually an imbalance may be created that has lasting effects on mood, thought processes and behavior long after you quit drinking alcohol for good.

Relationship and Social Changes

The history of alcohol is intimately tied to the history of social interaction. Drinking has been part of nearly every moment that makes us “human” – so the question remains, what causes alcoholism in some people and not others?

One answer to this question comes from our societal patterns; humans are creatures of habit. When someone stops drinking it alters friendships, family relationships, and habits that have typically developed over years. This change may leave the drinker feeling alone and misunderstood (which, in turn, can lead to drinking again).

Partying friends may not be very comfortable with the new sober buddy, and family members who grew accustom to the “fun” personality could become enablers to a relapse.

All of this comes together to create the perfect storm for relapse, which is sad because it's so preventable.

Media & Mindfulness

Beyond all this, it’s very important to remember the role that TV, Radio, and the Newspaper have in causing alcoholism. There are hundreds of shows, articles, and advertisements that glorify social drinking as a way to improve relationships, climb the corporate ladder, and just have fun. In a culture steeped in media attentiveness, this makes the alcoholic’s struggle to wellness all the more difficult.

Your Role

If you’re someone who finds they’ve got a problem, or a friend/family member with a problem, step one is open communication. Look at all the factors that may be causes of alcoholism and talk about them without condemnation. You, your family member or friend does not need a lecture, they need to understand the problem and begin to come to a place of acceptance.

There are numerous organizations that can help, and plenty of information on this site to begin that process. Remember the longest journeys begin with a step.


Like so many things in life, alcohol addiction comes down to choices. Learning how to choose differently is the foundation for living a healthy, happy life. If you or someone you care about has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it's OK - there are options out there and lots of people willing to help. Contact a treatment provider today.

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 

I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LPC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More

More than the causes of alcoholism on our alcoholism disease page

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