“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that
the past could have been any different.”
– Oprah Winfrey
Alcoholics, just like the rest of society, are a demographic of unique and diverse individuals, all of them having traveled their own personal path to the addiction that now controls their lives. You can pretty much guarantee that not a single one of them woke up one day and consciously decided to become an alcoholic, to induce or invoke an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), as alcoholism is known in medical fields.
Yet here they are, looked upon by so many in wider society as having some sort of moral failing, a weakness of character, perhaps, with the perceived stigma and shame just another burden for them to bear. In fact, that logic is very flawed, and your typical alcoholic is one of the most determined people you will ever meet in your lives.
Imagine waking up one morning, cold, a little damp, certainly hungover (although that state is the normal version of you now) and virtually penniless. And no liquor to hand.
You can guarantee those suffering from alcohol addiction for a number of years are well-versed in such situations. You can also guarantee that come the evening, they’ll be drunk, with more liquor available, having survived another day in their personal version of the world. Exceptionally resourceful people, thanks to their addiction.
Let’s make a few things absolutely clear…
Alcoholism or AUD is an incurable, chronic disease, just like diabetes or arthritis, although its effects are far more diverse, threatening virtually every single aspect of the addict’s life.
Secondly, there is (and probably never will be) any magical clinical equation to calculate who is 100% guaranteed to suffer from addiction and who is not, although addiction specialists have identified the most common root causes in the development of the disease – it is normally a combination of these factors where the true reason for the addiction lies.
Lastly, it’s virtually impossible for an alcoholic to quit drinking on their own, due to changes in their brain structure, as well as being highly dangerous, and possibly fatal. Only professional medical help will enable an alcoholic to become fully and safely detoxed from alcohol.
Here are your “3 Common Root Causes of Alcoholism,” and how each of them in themselves is potentially enough to lead someone to alcohol abuse and alcoholism in the future:
Genetics & Family Background
Way before you have ever put a shot of hard whiskey or an ice-cold beer to your lips, your path towards future addiction may have already been sketched out. Your family background, including any genetic predisposition towards addiction, plays a highly significant part in any establishment of why you become an addict.
Firstly, children and teenagers who do not have close relationships with the rest of their family, including their parents, are at a higher addiction risk later in life. If any of those family members are themselves alcohol-dependent, you are a massive 6 times more likely to become an alcoholic yourself.
Secondly, the role of genetics within addiction risk has been greatly researched over the last few decades, with the results published in Psychology Medicine, UK (1997) by the Washington University School of Medicine now accepted widely in the field of addiction treatment. Their results showed that genetic factors represent 40-60% of the potential risk of the development of addiction. Therefore, if you have a close blood relative who is an addict, and so share certain genes, there is a significant increase in the risk of you becoming an addict yourself.
The direct relationship between the development of addiction and an episode of significant trauma during childhood has long been established. Research into this is ongoing, as with all addiction risk factors; however, it has been proven that brain development is directly linked to specific environmental stimulation. This is because, as our brains develop, they have an inherent level of plasticity – the ability to respond and physically restructure itself in the face of certain outside stimuli.
During our young and adolescent years, our brains develop, grow and mature, and we know that the neural connections within will either develop as normal, become stronger or actually break. So, instances of trauma or extreme stress can, therefore, actual affect the brain’s physical development.
Therefore, traumatic or stressful experiences during childhood are now recognized as being behind certain anomalies in brain structure that can result in cognitive, behavioral and social impairments, eg. addiction.
People who suffer from both a substance abuse disorder and a mental health disorder are described as having co-occurring disorders, also known as dual diagnosis. This issue is a fairly common one in the field of addiction diagnosis and treatment.
Findings from the 2016 U.S. National Survey on Drug Use & Health showed that 29% of those diagnosed as mentally ill and around 50% of those who have a severe mental disorder also suffer from a substance abuse disorder. Looked at from the other side, 53% of drug addicts and 37% of alcoholics have one or more serious mental disorders.
What is extremely important in the treatment of someone with a co-occurring disorder is that both disorders are treated at the same time. If one of the disorders is not dealt with, the return of the other is all but inevitable. Mental health disorders widely associated with addiction include severe anxiety, depression and ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder).
Out of Your Hands…
Many other addiction risk factors exist, including the nature of the substance involved, peer pressure, age at exposure to substances, stress, and how your body metabolizes the substance. However, these 3 common root causes of alcoholism – genetics and family background, childhood trauma, and co-occurring disorders – highlight exactly how much of the risk of addiction is completely out of your own hands.
What are your experiences of addiction, and, in particular, alcoholism? Is alcoholism present within your family and how much does that concern you as a risk? Please feel free to share your thoughts with a comment below. Lastly, if you are struggling with alcohol abuse, you are not alone. Help is out there, and, hopefully, you’ll find it.