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How Do You Become an Alcoholic?

Alcohol addiction is one of the most widespread mental health problems in the US. For more than a century, alcohol has caused vehicle accidents, divorce, injury and financial ruin. It makes people wonder: how does someone go from social drinking to alcohol use disorder?

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Environmental Factors That Influence Drinking

People are products of their environment on multiple levels, including the habit of drinking. People raised by teetotalers are less likely to drink as adults than those raised by heavy drinkers. People with friends and work colleagues who drink are more likely to drink themselves than health-conscious vegans who work from home. The key environmental factors include:

  • Advertising – Alcohol is glamorized on billboards, magazine ads, commercials and social media. Due to stylized photos and reels of celebrities and influencers on social media, people watch and idealize drinking scenarios, both raunchy (dive bar, nightclub) and upscale (fine dining, soiree). 
  • Events – People are more tempted to drink at social events where alcohol is the norm. At work parties, people often drink red wine as they interact with co-workers, business contacts, executives and significant others. At ritzy high-society events, people sip champagne as they flaunt their mink scarves and gold jewelry.
  • Venues – At nightclubs, people drink cocktails and let loose on the floor. At happy hours, people drink white wine and socialize among work colleagues. At gentlemen’s clubs, guys down shots of gin to one-up each other. At dive bars, down-and-outers guzzle whisky as they moan about the passing time.
  • Friends – People are more prone to drink when they’re surrounded by friends who provide alcohol. At social get-togethers and game nights, people often bring kegs of beer or wine coolers. The drinks are often free and everyone wants to take part in the vibe. Some would find it rude or uptight to resist alcohol.
  • Family – People also drink at family reunions. In families where heavy drinking is the norm, the kids will usually take after their parents. Heavy drinking often leads to bad parenting and abusive behavior. Kids with such upbringings often drink to cope with the stress and trauma of a scary, toxic home environment.
  • Availability – People are more inclined to drink when there are free drinks available. At parties, people are often eager to try new wine coolers with different colors and flavors. At bars and nightclubs, people are glad to accept free drinks from friends and strangers who offer to buy rounds.

A lot of people only drink when they’re surrounded by people who are already drinking. Some people never buy wine or beer for their fridge but will happily drink when offered. Most people don’t want to come off as stuck up or preachy by abstaining or mouthing an anti-alcohol attitude.

Underage Binge Drinking

While not an immediate route to alcoholism, binge drinking is one of the most dangerous ways to consume alcohol. Binge drinking is defined as excessive consumption in two hours. For males, this would be anything over 4-5 drinks. For females, this would be anything over 3-4.

  • Fun – Young people drink to get wild and have fun at parties, raves and college events. In this age group, binge drinking is common because a lot of underage drinkers fear raids and penalties. They down as much as they can while the party lasts.
  • Letting loose – Teens and young adults also drink to feel more uninhibited at parties and clubs. A lot of people are shy and reserved when they first leave home. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and makes people more fearless and frank with others. Guys are less intimidated by girls when they’ve had a few drinks.
  • Fitting in – Teens and college students drink to fit in among their peers. Kids who gravitate to the “in” crowds need to prove they’re one with the gang. Some fraternities adopt certain “in” drinks with code names (to evade college staff). A popular feature at all-night parties is jungle juice, in which the alcohol taste is overpowered by punch.
  • Dares – The ability to down a hard, strong drink is often seen as a challenge or dare and kids (especially boys) want to show they’re up for the challenge. When college mates get their IDs, they often take bets on who can approach the hottest girls at clubs. Those who take the bet often down a few drinks for confidence.
  • Contests – Young people also have contests with alcohol to see who is up for stunts at parties. Who can balance a bottle from their mouth at a 90% angle? Who can down four shots without puking? Who can down a bottle of beer the fastest? Some of these are dangerous, especially when mixed with drugs. 
  • Rebellion – Kids also drink to rebel against their parents, teachers and authority at large. They don’t like being told they’re too young to drink. They can be especially defiant when told they won’t have access to alcohol; this emboldens their resolve to acquire some brand of beer, wine or hard liquor.

Young people tend to engage in alcohol abuse infrequently. Since their access is limited, they take whatever they can, when they can. Some youth develop an early high threshold for alcohol and drink to cope with stress related to studies and romantic depression.

Personal Reasons Why People Drink

People drink to cope with various forms of unhappiness, such as stress, depression, anxiety, trauma and heartbreak. People who struggle with emotional issues from their childhood are more likely to use drugs and alcohol to mask the scars. 

  • Depression – People drink to cope with personal depression over unhappy factors in life, such as job loss, financial stress and romantic problems. Some people drink excessively in the evenings when they’re not at work. When done nightly, it becomes an addiction.
  • Stress – People drink to cope with stress, a common cause of alcohol use disorder. When people face uncertainty over their income, job and living situation, they look for a mental escape. The intoxicating effects of alcohol allow the user to put these stressful things out of mind for a few hours.
  • Anxiety – Some people drink to cope with anxiety, which manifests when people fear conflict, judgment, responsibilities, penalties and health problems. Alcohol is a depressant that calms the nerves and slows breathing, which makes people less aware and concerned about their surroundings.
  • Loneliness – People also drink to cope with loneliness. When a marriage or long-term relationship has ended, some people consider alcohol their best friend. Loneliness can also stem from grief, such as the loss of an old relative or friend. People also get sad and depressed and are more prone to drink when they’ve lost a pet.
  • Confidence – Some people drink to boost their confidence. While there are far healthier ways to become confident, some people think that a quick buzz from alcohol is an easy antidote for shyness. A lot of men drink at bars and nightclubs just to muster the courage to approach women.
  • Mental health disorders – Alcohol use disorder is often tied to co-occurring mental health problems. In most cases, the drinker is coping with some form of deep-seated grief or trauma from childhood. People with emotional baggage are more likely to have addictive tendencies than people with no such issues.

Alcohol addiction starts slowly but gradually takes hold as the person starts drinking every day, throughout the day. Most people only drink 1-2 nights each week, typically during the evening at restaurants and social settings. The person who uses alcohol regularly always has alcohol in the house and consumes 5-10 drinks each day.

Signs of Alcohol Addiction

As people fall into alcohol addiction, it’s easy to see the signs. If the individual was once productive and well-spoken, he/she will start speaking incoherently and do subpar work. If the person was always moody and aloof, he might get more vulgar and hostile.

  • Risky behavior – People who drink excessively tend to engage in risky behavior. They might get behind the wheel while intoxicated and crash their vehicle into a tree, fence post, street divider or another vehicle. The consequences can be costly and sometimes fatal.
  • Belligerent attitude – When drunk, a person with aggressive traits is more likely to become unhinged and caustic. With his inhibitions lowered, he might pick fights with other men at a bar or party. This can lead to bruising punch-ups for both parties.
  • Slurred speech – Drunk individuals are usually incoherent when they talk. They’ll blare syllables loudly and ramble in a nonsensical and profane manner. Some people blurt out indiscretions when drunk and reveal things they wouldn’t if sober, such as details about their personal life.
  • Poor coordination – Intoxication makes people lose their coordination and balance. When drunk, a person can’t walk straight or follow lines properly. This can make alcohol very dangerous if the person is also on hallucinogens and gets on a rooftop, bridge or balcony. The lack of hand-eye coordination and focus is why people shouldn’t drink and drive.
  • Slow reactions – Alcohol diminishes people’s sense of judgment, space, speed and timing. Behind a wheel, the drunk driver might think that the pedestrian will make it across the intersection by the time he runs the red light. Trouble is, he doesn’t realize how fast he’s driving or see that he’s swerving between lanes.
  • Impaired memory – People can’t remember things properly when they’re under the influence. A person might down a few drinks to fight stage fright before a talk at some event, but forget the points he/she had gone over and flub the speech. Diminished memory is especially troublesome when a person can’t remember their ATM PIN or apartment code.

Some people withdraw from friends and family as alcohol addiction takes hold. If a once-close individual no longer initiates contact or attends social gatherings, the signs might show over phone calls or email text when they talk or write incoherently and seem careless or depressive.

Risks of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction puts people at all kinds of risks in the physical, mental and physiological sense. When people abuse alcohol, it wears on their senses, organs, physical appearance, bloodstream and respiratory system.

  • Increased tolerance – Addiction happens gradually. The person starts by having one drink too many on each outing at a bar or club. It then becomes two drinks too many. Then it goes from 3-4 drunk episodes per week to seven. This makes the body more tolerant of alcohol and the person must drink more to get the same buzz as before. That’s an addiction.
  • Weight fluctuation – Alcohol causes some people to lose or gain weight. Some people drink away their hunger and don’t notice stomach pains because they’re too intoxicated. Other people drink fatty wines and liquors and scarf down unhealthy foods. Because of their drunkenness, they don’t notice when their stomach is full.
  • Slowed breath – As a depressant, alcohol slows breathing. This can be dangerous if the person over-drinks or mixes alcohol with other depressants, such as heroin or fentanyl. 
  • Heart problems – Alcohol also slows the heart. If the drinker also consumes heroin, fentanyl or prescription downers (sleeping pills, anti-anxiety meds) it could slow the heart to a stop, especially if that person drinks way over the limit. If the person combines alcohol with stimulants (cocaine, meth) it could send contradictory signals to the heart and cause arrhythmia.
  • Injury – People often get injured while drunk because intoxication impairs people’s judgments. The drunk individual is more likely to pick fights, attempt risky stunts and engage in reckless driving. Some people do foolish balancing acts on window ledges while drunk and fall 3-4 stories.
  • Liver damage – The liver’s job is to filter out toxins from the body before the minerals of food and beverages enter the bloodstream. When people drink too much alcohol, it overwhelms the liver with toxins. This damages the liver and renders it incapable of doing its proper function. Once the liver fails, it has a domino effect on other organs.

Alcohol also takes its toll on people’s relationships, livelihoods, liberties and legal standing. People with alcohol use disorder alienate friends and loved ones. Drunken episodes often involve dangerous public incidents that lead to injury, fines and jail time. 

Alcohol abuse correlates to declining work performance, which can lead to pink slips and job termination. This, in turn, can lead to debt, poverty, bankruptcy, foreclosure and destitution.

Get Help Today

Don't go through the process of recovery alone. There are people who can help you with the struggle you're facing. Get in touch with one today.

Make a Call

Get Help for Alcohol Addiction

If someone you know struggles with alcohol addiction, call the nearby rehab centers and ask about their inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. Some centers offer assistance with intervention and accept different types of insurance plans. Act now before the problem gets any worse. Your call could be the start of a new beginning for someone special.

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