Causes of Alcohol Abuse

There are a variety of causes of alcohol abuse. This article has information on some factors that may play a part in the causes of alcohol abuse or alcohol dependency such as genetics, behaviors, depression, binge drinking, and more...

Causes of Alcohol Abuse and Related Issues

Although a variety of behaviors, situations, and problems are associated with alcoholism, they stand in various relationships to it: some may be causes or formative factors, while others may be effects or have relationships that are not yet clearly defined.

Genetics and Environment in the Development of Alcoholism

A variety of genetic and environmental causes can contribute to alcohol dependency, and an array of other behaviors and issues are often found in conjunction with teen alcohol use. This article explores what is known about the causes of alcohol abuse.

The discovery of the so-called “hangover gene” in 2005, showed that stress increases alcohol tolerance. This suggests that a drinker - including a first time drinker - would need to drink more before reaching a state of inebriation, increasing the likelihood that the stressed person would be more likely to end up with an addiction problem.

The latest research indicates that a mix of environmental and genetic factors may influence teens’ behavior with alcohol. Environmental factors play a larger role, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine found, in the timing of a teen’s first drink, with family conflict and peer use being key, and the earlier the first drink, the more likelihood of dependence. In their study of female twins, researchers nevertheless found that the rapidity of the move from problem drinking to dependence was more influential, as it was in moving through other drinking “milestones.” The researchers also found that “many” teens who had alcohol and became problem drinkers in their twenties, changed their behavior with regard to alcohol at about the same time as they made other significant commitments in relationships, employment, and starting a family.

The Collaborative Study of the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA), which focused on familial DNA testing, has shown that depending on the genetic variant, different associated behaviors are likely, including conduct problems for one genetic variant, and depression for another.

Other Factors/Issues that Go Hand-in-Hand with Alcohol Abuse

The COGA study may help us to understand why depression and physical fighting or other confrontational behavior is often linked with use of alcohol. But although genetic studies may not yet have shown a link, other factors, behaviors and disorders are also associated with alcohol abuse.

Besides depression, which alcohol use can contribute to, as well as arise with, other mental health disorders have been found among youth whose alcohol use began between ages 12 and 17. Bipolar disorder, panic disorders, and anxiety disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder are also associated with alcoholism.

Binge drinking has ties to a number of other behaviors. In particular, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) did a study in 2003 which showed that binge drinking by teens is associated with a variety of other behaviors more than their peers. Binge drinking teens are more likely to smoke, to have been in a physical fight, to have suffered from dating violence, including rape, to have attempted suicide, to be sexually active, and to use illegal drugs than teens who do not binge drink. By self report, they also tend to have lower grades. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) Report form April, 2005 found that more heavy drinking youths aged 12 - 17 had engaged in delinquent behavior including fighting, stealing, selling illegal drugs, and carrying a handgun than their peers who used alcohol differently or not at all.

Expanding on that, sexual activity brings with the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and unwanted pregnancy, while smoking brings the risk of cancers and lung disease. And besides the physical effects listed in the effects article, chronic abusers of alcohol alone become prone to bacterial pneumonia, septicemia, tuberculosis, atrial fibrillation, and hepatitis C. In addition, alcohol contributes to immunodeficiency and autoimmunity.

Teen runaways aged 12 - 17 are more likely than youths who have stayed at home to have used alcohol and illegal drugs, according to the NSDUH Report from July, 2004. And youths ages 12 - 17 who used alcohol or illicit drugs are more likely than those who used neither to be a suicide risk. according to the NSDUH Report from July, 2002.


Washington University School of Medicine (2008, April 24). Environment Key Early: Genes' Role Expands In Alcohol Dependence. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 30, 2008.

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