In recent years, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported shocking amounts of Americans living with some form of addiction to this drug. A 2005 survey reported 15.1 million adults (defined as over the age of 18, not 21) have an addiction to alcohol, and over 600,000 youths do, too!
While these numbers may be hard for some people to swallow, it’s often even more difficult to understand why are people alcoholics in the first place. It’s one thing to drink casually when of age, and another to pick up the bottle too young and/or too often.
To help you better understand the causes and definitions of alcoholism, we’ve made a summary of the condition below.
What’s the first thing you think of when someone mentions alcoholism?
Maybe your mind goes to extreme stereotypes of a person who drinks from morning to night, with no job, struggling finances and strained personal relationships. Their best friend is their drink of choice and he or she is regularly getting “cut off” by bartenders or thrown out of bars.
Maybe, you know an alcoholic who uses a drink to self-medicate their personal issues, or who doesn’t know when the party is over and when to stop drinking.
These are a few common perceptions of what a person living with alcoholism is like. But, they aren’t the whole story.
The Textbook Definitions
There is not a single standard definition for alcoholism, but there are some well-known groups who have a bit of authority on the matter. These include AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), ASAM (the American Society of Addiction Medicine), and various recovery centers/professionals.
The AA definition of alcoholism is “a physical compulsion, coupled with a mental obsession”, roughly. This refers to a distinct desire which cannot be controlled or contained. ASAM, on the other hand, has a more complex definition, broken down into many parts.
There are plenty of dictionary references and medical professionals you can ask to shed some light on the matter as well. But, the bottom line is this – once a person consistently begins to feel like they “need a drink”, or when drinking begins to take priority over real responsibilities and healthy habits, there’s a problem. That problem is alcoholism.
The Signs and Habits
It’s one thing to define alcoholism and another to see this addiction unfold before your eyes. Maybe you know a family member, a close friend, or even a co-worker who struggles with this condition.
If you aren’t sure whether or not this person is an alcoholic, though, try to look for the signs of addiction. These include:
- constant lies and unusual behavior
- loss of interest in regular daily activities
- poor memory functions
- irritability and mood swings
- sudden violent outbursts
The alcoholic in your life may display just one of these symptoms or a combination of them. More often than not, it’s the latter. If you try to confront them about their dependency on alcohol and they avoid the subject, or always offer a false promise, it may be time to seek professional help.
Common Causes of Alcoholism
Maybe you already know you have an alcoholic in your life, but you’re trying to understand the root of their condition. Heavy drinking doesn’t become a habit in the same way for everyone. It is often the sum of different pains and burdens that become too much to bear.
Here are a few.
Traumatizing Life Events
Have you ever lost a close friend or family member? When was the last time you truly had your heart broken? Do you know what it feels like to lose your home or your job?
These are events that truly shake people to their core. Sometimes, a challenge like this can show a person their true potential, unlocking a strength they didn’t know was awaiting within them. Other times, these struggles are what push people off the edge.
When the troubles of the world become overwhelming or outright daunting, alcoholics will find an escape in the bottle. At least, they’ll tell themselves the escape is there, continuously searching for more liquor to numb the pain.
The worst part about this source of alcoholism, though, is arguably what happens when the addict begins to heal. Not only does an alcoholic have to recover from the temptations and burdens of their addiction, but then, they have to face what they were running from in the first place.
It’s one thing to try to run from the troubles life throws at you. It’s another to use drinking as a way to try to run from yourself. When a person uses alcohol to somehow “treat” their mental illness, they’re creating an addiction.
In treatment, this later becomes classified as a dual diagnosis. Alcohol recovery centers will find ways to help a person to overcome their drinking as well as their mental condition. Some mental illnesses that can correlate with and/or cause alcoholism include:
- severe anxiety
- bipolar disorder
Just as alcoholism is unique in each person it encounters, every mental illness case is its own situation, too. This makes treatment all the more complicated. To truly recover from the bottle, an alcoholic who has one of the conditions above, or some other form of mental illness, needs to tackle both issues at the same time.
Extreme cases of physical harm are other common causes of alcoholism.
For example, if a person gets in a car accident that leaves them paralyzed or a sports injury which makes them unable to ever get back on the court/field again, they may turn to drinking. A person may even lose a limb, a significant amount of memory, or regular mental functions.
These turn a person’s world upside down, often leading them to turn to the bottle. It’s not an easy process for anyone to experience or for friends and family to watch unfold. Thankfully, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, even after such horrible events.
Understanding Why Are People Alcoholics and Doing Something About It
Speaking of the light at the end of the tunnel, no matter the cause for your loved one’s drinking, always remember there is hope. You have the power to make them see how their habits are affecting your life and the lives of many they care about.
Sometimes, this is enough to make a person want to change their ways. Other alcoholics may need more convincing. But, every addict has the power to become a recovered addict.
It’s just about a matter of understanding why are people alcoholics and helping them make the decision to change and stay committed to recovery. For help on this journey, click here.