What Leads to Alcohol Dependence?
WHY do people become dependent on alcohol? Are there early warning signs that a person is in danger of becoming an alcoholic?
Of course, the immediate cause of alcoholism is the alcohol. If people did not drink alcoholic beverages they would not become dependent on them.
However, alcoholic drinks are available in most places today, and will continue to be. Too, people generally want the freedom to decide for themselves if they will drink or not. And in many societies, it is not likely that the problems would disappear by outlawing alcoholic beverages. The era of prohibition in the United States showed that.
What is needed is good control over one’s drinking. Yet very few people with serious alcohol problems ever thought that their drinking would get out of control. Indeed, a large proportion of those who already are dependent on alcohol do not think that they are, or will not admit it.
The habitual drunk is obviously alcohol dependent, and is easily recognized as such. But for many others, especially at the earlier stages, their alcoholism may not be so obvious, even to themselves.
But there are clear signals pointing to potential or actual alcohol abuse. For example, if a person honestly asks himself a number of questions, he can often quickly determine if he or someone he knows is heading toward alcohol dependence, or already is dependent on it.
It has been the experience of organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous that if a person answers “Yes” to as few as three of the following questions, he can be reasonably certain that alcohol has become a problem.
1. Are you drinking more often than you used to, and taking stronger drinks?
2. Are you taking a number of drinks every day, or even on several days a week?
3. Has drinking affected your reputation?
4. Are you resentful when others caution you on your drinking?
5. Do you drink to escape from worries or troubles?
6. Do you sometimes gulp down drinks, instead of sipping them?
7. At times, do you have a craving for an alcoholic beverage?
8. Do you often drink alone?
9. Has your drinking caused problems, such as resentment by members of your family?
10. Do you defend your drinking by feeling that you could stop at any time, but yet do not stop?
11. If you have tried to stop drinking for a certain period, say a month, did you fall short of your goal?
12. Are you neglecting your appearance, such as putting on excessive weight due to drinking, but yet you keep on drinking?
13. Has your drinking made you careless about your health, job, money-spending habits or family’s welfare?
14. Do you look for, or arrange, occasions such as social gatherings as excuses for drinking?
15. Do you keep a bottle of alcoholic beverage hidden somewhere to drink when others are not looking?
Just a few “Yes” answers to such questions can indicate trouble. Many “Yes” answers would show that some degree of alcoholism is already well established.
But why do people develop problems with alcohol in the first place? What factors come into play?
It is difficult to single out any one condition or attitude that leads a person to becoming dependent on alcohol. The human body, mind and emotions are very complex. And people differ greatly from one another in mental, emotional and physical makeup.
Even body size makes a difference. Larger persons have more water in their bodies than do smaller persons. Alcohol is diluted by water. So all other things being equal, a smaller person usually will be more quickly affected by the same amount of alcohol than will a larger person.
Also, where all factors, such as body size, background, problems and pressures, and drinking habits, appear to be similar, one person who begins drinking will eventually become addicted while another in the same set of circumstances will not. So it cannot be said that a certain problem, emotional disposition, childhood experience or cultural environment will automatically produce an alcoholic.
Yet, there are factors that produce higher rates of alcoholism. For instance, where a society is alcohol-oriented, promoting and advertising it, showing it to be common at social events and eating places, then more people will be induced to drink. And when heavy drinking or drunkenness is portrayed not only as common but at times even as humorous, then the stigma against alcoholism lessens.
In such an environment, especially at social gatherings, a person is made to feel awkward, almost like an outsider, if he does not drink. Those who are trying to abstain from alcohol because of having problems with it may find themselves under constant pressure to conform.
Economic factors can also play their part. There is much alcohol abuse among some poor people, particularly in the large cities of the industrial societies. Poverty can bring on a feeling of hopelessness, with alcohol’s sedative-like quality temporarily masking the pain of reality.
On the other hand, affluence in some countries has brought with it greater drinking by middle- and upper-income groups. Also, there are job and social pressures that lead to more drinking. A study of the drinking habits of 8,000 American executives revealed that 27 percent were very heavy drinkers, consuming an average of six or more ounces of alcohol every day, seven days a week. In Japan, it is reported that about 60 percent of persons in supervisory positions have drinking problems. And more housewives in wealthier nations are now becoming alcoholics.
Marital and family problems often turn one mate, or both, to alcohol in an attempt to find relief from unhappiness. Loneliness can also lead one to drink too much, as can disappointment, a fear of the future, a lack of confidence, or even a tragedy such as the death of a loved one.
But people who drink to excess to try to lessen problems, anxiety, or depression, always find that they end up with greater problems, anxiety and depression. These are the inevitable consequences of alcoholism.
A group of doctors, writing to the New York Times, stated: “An especially deep concern of our time is the startling increase in teen-age drinking, with dramatic increase in the prevalence of general alcohol abuse, alcoholism and multiple addiction.”
The main health problem of young people in the United States is alcoholism. It ranks as a far more serious threat than addiction to “hard” drugs such as heroin. A government official calls it a “devastating problem . . . of epidemic proportion.”
A survey revealed that about one third of the nation’s high school students have drinking problems. And now alcohol dependence is being found in children who are even younger, not yet in high school.
In Germany, researchers at the University of Kiel state that a sixth of Germany’s young people between the ages of 10 and 18 are “threatened by alcoholism.” Other lands where alcoholism generally is increasing also find that their young people are more involved.
One immediate result is noted by the Boston Sunday Globe, which said: “Traffic fatalities involving teenage drivers who drink since the drinking age was lowered [have] gone up three times.”
But why are more young people drinking? One reason is ‘peer pressure,’ the influence of friends. “All my friends drink,” said one young person in a typical statement. Another declared: “I didn’t want to look ‘square,’ so I started drinking.”
As with adults, many young people drink because, as one said: “Drinking makes me feel happy and helps me have a good time.” Some other reasons young people give are: they are bored with life; have problems at home or in school; or fear the future in a world of harshness and uncertainty.
But the most common reason given by young people for their drinking habits is the influence of parents and adult society in general. The book Teen-Age Alcoholism states: “In the case of drinking, though the influence of the peer group is important, parents have the greatest influence.” In Germany, it was found that where the father drinks a lot, his children more often do too.
But many parents do not abuse alcohol. And they insist that their children not drink to any regular degree until they are old enough to do so responsibly. Studies have found that in such families half as many young people are getting into trouble with alcohol compared with families where parents themselves drink heavily.
Where adult drinking is commonplace in a society, many youths will imitate what they see older people doing. As an example, one youth who watched western movies on television stated: “The men in those movies drank whiskey. I started to drink whiskey to be tough like them.”
You reap what you sow. In a society where heavy drinking is condoned, and where millions of adults are dependent on alcohol, more young people will become dependent on it too.
Yet, while many factors can lead up to alcoholism, what happens to a person’s system that makes him become dependent on the alcohol? With what results?
[Blurb on page 6]
A large proportion of those who already are dependent on alcohol do not think that they are, or will not admit it
[Blurb on page 7]
People who drink to excess to try to lessen problems, anxiety or depression always find that they end up with greater problems, anxiety and depression
[Blurb on page 8]
In a society where heavy drinking is condoned, and where millions of adults are dependent on alcohol, more young people will become dependent on it too