Many psychologists operate on the belief that all human behaviour is because of our environment. In a way, the same principle also applies to the emotional reasons behind alcohol addiction.
If this concept has any truth to it, any unhealthy behaviours that lead to alcohol abuse have the potential to be developed this way too.
The good news is that humans can get taught to unlearn just as much as they are taught to learn.
What is alcohol dependency?
Alcoholism is a psychiatric diagnosis that was reclassified under the DSM-5 in 2013, as alcohol use disorder (previously classified as alcohol dependence).
When someone has an alcohol use disorder, they are psychologically or physically dependent on alcohol.
What are the symptoms of alcohol dependency?
According to experts, alcohol dependency has four key symptoms:
- Physical dependence: This includes shaking, anxiety, sweating and feeling sick when stopping alcohol after a bout of heavy drinking
- High alcohol tolerance: The more a person drinks, the stronger the alcohol threshold -meaning they require a higher intake of alcohol to get drunk
- Strong urges or cravings: The persons urge and, the compulsion to drink is intense
- A lack of control: A person is incapable of controlling the amount they drink on any given day or occasion
Risks and complications
The risks associated with alcoholism are threefold:
When someone continuously abuses alcohol – it can have a detrimental impact on their physical wellbeing.
Health conditions that are associated with alcoholism or alcohol use disorder are:
- High blood pressure
- Changes in the menstrual cycle (females)
- Erectile dysfunction (males)
- Colon, oesophagus and liver cancers
- Bleeding in the digestive tract
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, other health conditions such as heart disease, brain dysfunction and pancreatic cancers are associated with alcoholism.
Epidemiological studies show that breast cancer is more prevalent in those who drink alcohol daily.
A study, which included a total of 58,000 women with a breast cancer diagnosis showed that those who drank more than 45 grams of alcohol a day, had 1.5 times the risk of contracting breast cancer compared to those who don’t drink that much.
Alcohol weakens the immune system:
Other studies show that drinking too much can weaken the immune system leaving people open to conditions such as pneumonia and tuberculosis compared to those that do not drink too much.
The emotional repercussions of alcohol abuse can be devastating to the addict and the addicts family – these include:
- Agitation and irritability
Not only do the effects of alcohol abuse produce emotional problems, but overusing alcohol can also trigger negative feelings such as anger, overreacting to things, and an inability to control emotions (dysregulation).
Someone that continually abuses alcohol may notice a difference in their ability to function on a cognitive level. Symptoms include:
- Decreased impulse control
- Mood instability
- Memory loss
- Clumsiness and slower reflexes (such as slurred speech and disorientation)
Top 5 emotional drivers of alcohol dependency
It is hard to say what drives a person from having the occasional tipple to full-blown alcohol abuse.
But, many factors put a person at risk of becoming an alcoholic in the future. Alcoholism is usually a byproduct of social and environmental factors, mental health and genetics.
The more risk factors a person possesses, the likelier they are of developing some form of alcohol addiction. Below are some of the emotional drivers of alcohol dependency:
#1. Mental health issues:
When someone has mental health problems, the challenges they face every day can be overwhelming.
Since alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it often slows speech or other functions, it may seem helpful when someone is feeling anxious or depressed. In the long run, though, it can lead to alcohol dependency.
#2. History of alcohol abuse in the family:
Those with a parent or close relative who abused alcohol are automatically at an increased risk of developing issues with alcohol in the future.
Alcoholism is known as a family disease as it affects not only the addict but the whole family unit. If a child is around a parent that abused alcohol, they are up to five times more likely to abuse alcohol themselves.
#3. Drinking from an early age:
Those who drink at an early age are more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder when they become adults according to the Mayo Clinic.
Not only has a person developed a dependence on alcohol early on, but they have also built a tolerance towards the substance – meaning that it takes more than just a few glasses of wine to get drunk.
#4. Traumatic experiences:
Many people abuse alcohol to numb out the unpleasant feelings associated with a traumatic experience or event.
These traumatic experiences may be single events (such as witnessing a close relatives illness) or, they may stem from childhood (such as experiencing physical or sexual abuse).
It seems that any traumatic experience can produce a dependency on a substance such as alcohol and the effects can vary from person to person.
#5. Peer pressure:
Peer pressure can happen at any age with alcohol since being social is one of the reasons behind drinking.
Going to a wedding or celebration almost always includes drinking alcohol and the pressure to drink from others is often a feature.
When a person refuses to drink at a social gathering, they might get accused of being a lightweight or a party pooper.
This form of societal pressure can be challenging for those in early alcohol recovery stages.
The pressure to drink is also normalized within certain cultures more than others, and this normalization can result in excessive drinking.
To prevent alcohol use disorder people must be aware of any red flags that might suggest that either themselves or a loved one is heading towards alcoholism.
Some of the red flags to look out for include:
- People who drink more than 12-15 times a week
- Pay special attention to those with alcoholism in the family
- People with mental health conditions (or other addictive disorders)
- A person becoming angry or defensive when talking about their drinking
- Neglected personal hygiene
- A person needing to drink more and more to get the desired effect
- Missing work or school
- Drinking alone and binge drinking
There are a number of alcohol prevention plans that can be helpful to all ages -such as:
- Education – this can involve all age groups as drinking affects people of all ages differently. Understanding the facts on ageing and drinking and how to avoid alcohol poisoning are beneficial
- Being as transparent as possible about how alcohol and other drugs such as prescription drugs and herbal medicines can cause complications if taken together or used incorrectly
- Spreading awareness around the health implications of alcoholism (particularly for those belonging to the older generation) such as high blood pressure, memory loss, stroke, and a lack of coordination and balance
- Understanding any triggers such as boredom, loneliness, loss of a loved one and depression
Seeking early treatment for alcohol abuse is crucial in stopping the addiction cycle. Early intervention can help prevent the adverse effects that accompany alcohol use disorder.
Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous are also beneficial for those in alcohol recovery.
If you are worried about your (or a loved ones’) drinking habits, it might be time to get in touch with a professional who can help. Contact the team at Tikvah Lake today to discuss your options further.