In some ways, alcohol is the same for everybody. For instance, alcohol affects the body, no matter whose body has consumed it. But in other ways, alcohol has a different impact from person to person.
Some people might go weeks, months, or even years between alcoholic drinks. Others develop an alcohol use disorder (AUD), which is sometimes called “alcoholism” and characterizes an alcohol abuse problem.
Why does alcohol affect people so differently? There are several reasons. Those who do develop an AUD might face any of the following factors.
People hold a lot of misunderstandings about addiction. One of the most common misunderstandings is that addiction is a choice. If an “alcoholic” simply stopped drinking alcohol, the addiction would go away, right? Researchers disagree. While society hasn’t quite caught up, scientists view addiction as a disease.
Disease is a complex thing. It usually involves a lot of factors, including a person’s environment and access to care. But the strongest predictor of nearly any disease is family history. Like many other diseases, AUD has a strong genetic link. This disease often runs in families, making some people more prone to abuse issues than others.
Early Access and Environment
Of course, many diseases also have environmental and social factors, too. For example, a person who can’t access healthy foods is more likely to develop heart disease than a person who can, even if both of those people have the same genetic risk.
Alcohol use disorders work in a similar way. Imagine that two people have the same genetic risk for alcohol abuse. One person grew up in a home that always had alcohol available, while the other grew up in a home without alcohol. Because of the easy access to alcohol, the first person is more likely to develop an AUD. The other person, who had no way to get alcohol from home as a child, is much less vulnerable.
Aside from early access, other environmental factors can lead to alcohol addiction. Some of those factors might include:
- having friends who drink often
- struggling to fit in with peers
- working or learning in a stressful environment
- having few available social activities that don’t involve alcohol
- needing an escape from trauma
Additional Mental Health Disorders
AUD often goes hand-in-hand with other mental health conditions. For example, a lot of people with addictions also have depression. Does the depression cause the addiction, or does the addiction cause the depression?
The answer is complicated, and it’s more of a loop than a straight line. It’s true that certain substances, including alcohol, can make the symptoms of mental illness worse. But depression and other mental illnesses can also contribute to addiction.
For instance, someone with depression might drink to self-medicate, especially if they don’t have access to care and healthy coping mechanisms. Alcohol may bring temporary relief, but over time, the depression will become worse. Then, the person may drink even more alcohol to relieve their worsening symptoms, and the cycle will continue.
Could I Have an Alcohol Use Disorder?
Are you wondering if you have an alcohol use disorder? If you’re not sure, ask yourself if any of the following things resonate with you:
- You often crave alcoholic drinks.
- Alcohol feels more like a need than a want.
- You feel that you can’t get through certain activities without a drink.
- The thought of being without alcohol makes you uneasy.
- You’ve tried to take a break or cut back on alcohol, but you haven’t been successful.
- You’ve faced negative consequences for drinking, but you still can’t stop.
- Your drinking has impacted your relationships.
If any of these feel familiar to you, you may have an alcohol use disorder. Thankfully, alcohol addiction is treatable. If you have a doctor, tell them about your symptoms as soon as possible. If you don’t have a doctor, look for addiction resources in your area.
Like many other disorders, alcohol use disorder has several treatment options. When you find the ones that work for you, you can manage your addiction and experience better overall health.