Alcohol Addiction: Causes and Risks

Alcohol Addiction: Causes and Risks

Content Overview

Alcohol is often the go-to substance for millions of people across the nation. Despite its legally and socially acceptable status, this mind-altering drug is associated with several harms. We’ll take a closer look at the factors that lead to alcoholism, the health risks and far-stretching impacts of this illness, its distinctive signs and symptoms, and more.

What Is Alcohol Addiction (Alcoholism)?

Alcoholism is a chronic illness defined by regular, uncontrollable drinking habits. It’s a progressive disease in the sense that it doesn’t occur overnight — it forms gradually when your drinking becomes frequent and increases in quantity. When you suffer from alcoholism, you’ll feel compelled to pursue high-risk drinking despite this destructive habit taking a toll on almost every area of your life and affecting the wellbeing of those around you.

Alcohol dependence is the hallmark of alcohol addiction, whereby your body and brain adapt to the presence of this substance. Dependence creates a constant urge to use alcohol to feel physically and mentally okay.


The latest Facts on Alcohol Consumption in the UK

The use of alcohol is widespread across the UK. A majority, though, are heavy drinkers, as evident through these findings:

  • In England alone, more than 10 million people are high-drink drinkers; that is, their consumption of alcohol is at harmful levels
  • Overall, more than one in every five adults in the UK consume alcohol in a risky manner that could harm their health
  • During the pandemic period (2021 to 2021), an additional 12.6 million litres of alcohol were purchased — Roughly 24.4% higher than the amount of alcohol bought between 2019 to 2020

What Causes Someone to Become an Alcoholic?

Alcoholism arises because of influences from different factors, such as genetics, social factors and economic factors.

  • Genetics
    According to research, there are specific gene mutations closely linked to alcoholism. Parents who struggle with this illness may have these genes and can pass them down to their children. When you inherit them, your likelihood of developing alcohol addiction is high.
  • Social factors
    Alcohol use is a glorified habit in modern society. These positive attitudes towards drinking can lead you to adopt uncontrolled drinking tendencies that may eventually evolve into an addiction.
    Negative experiences within your family, school or work environment can prompt you to repeatedly increase your drinking to cope with these experiences. Over time, alcoholism may set in. In addition, the desire and pressure to fit in amongst peers and friends may push you to frequently engage in high-risk drinking habits that can eventually morph into an addiction.
  • Economic factors
    Issues such as lack of employment can drive you to problem drinking to find relief from the hopelessness and other negative emotions you may be experiencing. In addition, tough economic times may put you at risk of high-stress levels, which can trigger harmful drinking to cope with the hardships and economic tension.

What Are the Risks Associated With Alcoholism?

Untreated alcohol addiction causes significant health problems. When your body remains dependent on alcohol for an extended period, you risk developing life-threatening medical conditions, including:

  • Organ failure, particularly liver, pancreas, heart and the brain
  • High blood pressure, which will make you vulnerable to heart diseases and stroke
  • Cancers among them liver cancer, breast cancer, mouth cancer and bowel cancer
  • Serious mental health disorders or worsening symptoms if you have an existing mental health problem.
  • Infections such as tuberculosis and pneumonia since alcohol addiction will compromise your immune system, weakening your body’s ability to fight off serious infections.
  • Sexual health problems that may lead to infertility
  • As drinking takes priority in your life, you may end up losing solid relationships with loved ones, or your career. Alcohol dependency will also increase your risks of alcohol poisoning, which can cause major seizures, heart attack, brain damage, coma, and in the worst case, death.

    Alcohol Use and Pregnancy

    Drinking during pregnancy has profound effects on the developing baby — and most last throughout a child’s life. When you take this substance when expectant, it travels through your blood into the unborn baby’s body organs and tissues.

    Since the breakdown of alcohol in a baby’s system happens much slower, its levels in your unborn baby will remain high for an extended period. Your baby may develop fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), a serious condition classified under foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). FAS is characterised by physical and mental defects that occur when a fetus is exposed to alcohol through the mother.

    These defects include:

    • Poorly defined facial features
    • Poor physical growth during and after birth
    • Learning disabilities and challenges with paying attention
    • Muscle weakness that leads to issues with balance and movement
    • Heart defects that can cause heart-related complications

    Drinking when pregnant also puts you at greater risk of a stillbirth, miscarriage or giving birth to a premature baby.


    Alcohol Use and Children

    Parental alcohol problems affect a child’s emotional well-being and academic progress, and lead to children developing a host of psychological disorders at a young age. High-risk drinking exposes children to traumatic experiences since they may witness conflicts in the household. It also puts them at risk of abuse from an intoxicated parent.

    Children of parents suffering from alcoholism tend to suppress negative emotions to avoid confrontations with the alcoholic parent. These deep-seated emotions will manifest when the child enters adulthood. As they struggle to lead an emotionally stable life as an adult, they risk developing substance abuse tendencies to deal with their emotional instabilities.

    Studies show that children of alcoholic parents are twice as likely to develop substance abuse problems in the future compared to other kids with non-alcoholic parents. Heavy drinking is often an expensive lifestyle, and your child may miss out on basic needs as you prioritise funding your drinking habit.

    Alcohol Use in the Workplace

    According to research,60% of poor work performance issues in organisations are linked to employees’ use of substances in the workplace, including alcohol. Alcohol use problems can significantly lower your overall performance in your role. You’re likely to run into issues with supervisors and other co-workers over work-related disputes, and these strained relationships can decrease your work morale and concentration.

    Regular heavy drinking also has unpleasant consequences such as hangovers that can increase your likelihood of habitual delays when reporting to work, sleeping on the job, or missing work altogether. Drinking in the workplace will interfere with your ability to make sound decisions, solve problems and make meaningful contributions in your line of work.

    Persistent performance inconsistencies, missing out on work deadlines and discharging your tasks under the influence will put you at risk of losing your job. Problem drinking will lead you further away from attaining the professional success and reputation you deserve.

    Alcohol Use in the Community and NHS

    Alcohol Use in the Community and NHS

    High-risk drinking is responsible for poor health outcomes among communities, as many suffer from worsening mental health conditions, traumatic injuries, disabilities, and chronic illnesses resulting from harmful alcohol consumption. It’s also responsible for dysfunctional family units, premature deaths within communities, and violence in households and society at large.

    Rising cases of alcohol-related complications are leading to more emergency visits and hospital admissions in the National Health Service (NHS) treatment facilities. The already burdened state-funded treatment provider has to devote more financial resources towards increasing staffing, purchasing alcoholism treatment medications, expanding ambulance services and stretching the capacity of its facilities, all in an effort to meet the soaring demand for high-level care for alcohol-related harms.

    The latest figures estimate the NHS spends close to £3.5 billion each year treating complications caused by harmful drinking. These rising costs are further affecting NHS’s ability to invest in other treatment services (besides alcoholism).

    Getting Help for Alcohol Addiction

    Alcoholism takes control over your mind and body, making it almost impossible for you to get sober on your own. Seeking professional treatment is the only sure way to defeat this addiction fully. Your treatment options include:

    • A Home Detox Plan
      Recovery from alcoholism starts with detox to remove all the alcohol toxins in your body. Fortunately, you can undergo this medically-assisted process from your home. You need to first reach out to a private rehab provider or your GP so they can guide you on your detox plan.
    • Residential Alcohol Rehabilitation
      With the help of qualified therapists and counsellors, you’ll overcome the psychological dependence (which is often the toughest part about healing from alcoholism) that your mind has developed towards this substance.
    • Natural Recovery
      In this case, you’ll need to join support groups where you’ll learn from others in recovery about how to lead an alcohol-free life. However, it’s advisable to complete detox first. If you’ve formed a dependence on this substance, quitting abruptly and entering support groups immediately can lead to life-threatening symptoms if you aren’t under medical care.

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      How many drinks is considered alcoholism?

      Alcohol addiction isn’t necessarily defined by the number of drinks you take. Instead, it depends on your relationship with alcohol. If you’ve adopted a regular uncontrolled drinking pattern and still carry on with harmful drinking despite the problems it’s causing in your life and those around you, it’s likely that you’ve developed alcoholism.

      Is there a test for alcohol addiction?

      Yes, there is. The CAGE questionnaire is one of the most reliable tools to confirm whether you’ve formed an addiction. This four-questions tool provides a straightforward way to evaluate your drinking patterns and reveals if you have problem drinking. A high score (two and above) clinically shows you suffer from alcoholism.

      What are the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction?

      There are several, among them: binge drinking frequently, being unable to function without a drink, and struggling to cut back on drinking. Being familiar with all the signs can help you get treatment sooner and save you from further destruction.

      How does alcohol addiction affect my family?

      Alcoholism affects you on a deep level, both mentally and physically. Thus, it changes your habits, behaviours and overall worldview. This is where relationships suffer, as alcohol obstructs your perceptions, and you are often unable to tell just how you react in given situations. Keeping secrets and spending more time at the bar, instead of with your family, are also serious relationship obstacles.

      Jason Shiers
      Author / Jason Shiers / Dip.Psych MBACP
      Jason Shiers is a Certified Transformative Coach & Certified Psychotherapist who is a specialist in addiction, trauma and eating disorders. He has been working in the field of addiction for 25 years now.

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