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  • Writer's pictureDahlia Foundation

What causes alcohol-related disorders?

Problem drinking has multiple causes, with genetic, physiological, psychological,and social factors all playing a role. Not every individual is equally affected by each cause. For some alcohol abusers, psychological traits such as impulsiveness, low self-esteem and a need for approval prompt inappropriate drinking. Some individuals drink to cope with or "medicate" emotional problems. Social and environmental factors such as peer pressure and the easy availability of alcohol can play key roles. Poverty and physical or sexual abuse also increase the odds of developing alcohol dependence.

Genetic factors make some people especially vulnerable to alcohol dependence. Contrary to myth, being able to "hold your liquor" means you're probably more at risk — not less — for alcohol problems. Yet a family history of alcohol problems doesn't mean that children will automatically grow up to have the same problems. Nor does the absence of family drinking problems necessarily protect children from developing these problems.

Once people begin drinking excessively, the problem can perpetuate itself. Heavy drinking can cause physiological changes that make more drinking the only way to avoid discomfort. Individuals with alcohol dependence may drink partly to reduce or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

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