What are psychological causes of alcoholism?
- Alcoholism is both a genetic and psychological condition that affects over 41% of the population (World Health Organization, 2021). An individual’s family of origin has the greatest impact in determining if they will suffer from alcoholism later in their life (Alcohol and the brain: An overview 2021). The heritability of alcoholism is 49% (Chinnusamy, M., Eugin, P. R., & Janakiraman, S. (2021), meaning that based on various genetic components, almost half of the risk that an individual will suffer from alcoholism comes from their family genetics.
- The psychological causes of alcoholism vary based on a number of factors, including those mentioned above. Psychologically, when someone is under immense stress—such as when starting college, a new job, or other major life stressors—alcohol can be a quick an easily accessible tool to turn to for immediate relief of symptoms and discomfort. Those who suffer from alcoholism have similar behavioral traits, including low distress tolerance, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. One-third of individuals who report suffering from alcoholism report a mental health diagnosis including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.
- Overall, alcoholism is a family disorder. The genetic components account for one part of the disease; however, the psychological distress that transfers to the family of the individual dealing with alcoholism is also pervasive. Family members of those who suffer from alcoholism report increased depression, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms directly related to their loved one’s disorder. 59% of family members reported high stress, financial burden, domestic violence, and child abuse and neglect directly related to the substance use of a family member (Understanding Alcohol Use Disorders and Their Treatment 2012).
- The psychological implications of alcoholism are detrimental to not only the individual suffering, but also their family members and those closest to them, which causes a myriad of psychological implications resulting from the disease.
How does alcohol addiction affect the brain?
- Drinking alcohol has both short- and long-term effects on the brain and overall health. Alcohol, even in small amounts, impairs cognitive ability, judgement, and brain development. The earlier an individual begins drinking, the higher the risk of having long-term changes in brain functioning and brain structure.
- Several bodily functions are hindered when an individual drinks in excess, especially in the brain, which controls the overall human body. Some of these changes include slurred speech, loss of body control, memory difficulties, and poor judgement. More serious effects include blackouts, seizures, coma, and even death.
- Drinking alcohol pollutes the brain and causes neurons to actually shrink in size and limit their capacity. Drinking alcohol, especially in excess, severely diminishes the heath of the brain.
What are the criteria for being considered an “alcoholic”?
- According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5), Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is classified as a maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress (APA, 2013). The diagnosis is broken into mild, moderate, and severe sub-classifications.
- Mild is when the individual presents with 2 to 3 symptoms. Moderate: the presence of 4 to 5 symptoms. Severe: the presence of 6 or more symptoms. Symptoms include:
- Consuming more alcohol or spending more time drinking than intended.
- Desire to limit or halt alcohol use that has not succeeded.
- Spends an inordinate amount of time drinking, being ill, and/or undergoing the aftereffects of alcohol use.
- Has strong cravings for alcohol.
- Consuming alcohol or becoming ill because of it has kept the person from properly attending to household duties and children or resulted in difficulties performing on the job or at school.
- Has continued drinking despite the problems created with family and loved ones.
- Has discontinued or is only sporadically involved with things that were once enjoyable or important to them in order to continue drinking.
- Has repeatedly been in situations during the consumption of alcohol that have increased the chance of being injured (using machinery, driving).
- Continues to drink even though they feel sad, distressed, or it affects an already existing health problem. Similarly, they continue to drink alcohol following episodes of forgetting or blanking out about events that occurred during while drinking.
- Has to increase drinking to get the results they seek.
- A licensed mental health or medical provider should provide a diagnosis of alcoholism to ensure accuracy and appropriate care and treatment.
Dr. Aurielle Williams is the Regional Executive Director for Georgia (TruHealing Atlanta). She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Clinical Supervisor, and Domestic Mediator. Dr. Williams has been in clinical practice for over ten years specializing in trauma, suicide awareness and prevention, and family preservation. She has a passion for serving others and giving back to her community.
Dr. Williams serves on the Gwinnett County Young Professionals Board—where she also holds an elected position as a Committee Vice Chair—delivers mental health education at speaking engagements, and mentors other young professionals through the Journey Program, a nine-month leadership development program. In 2021, she was selected as one of Atlanta’s “30 under 30 Young Professionals.”
Dr. Williams attended Auburn University, where she completed her bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies. She received a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Mercer University School of Medicine, an MBA in Healthcare Administration at Western Governors University, and a doctorate degree in Human and Social Services at Walden University.
To learn more about Dr. Williams, check out her LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-aurielle-c-williams/
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Neurodevelopmental disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
- American Psychological Association. (2012). Understanding Alcohol Use Disorders and their treatment. American Psychological Association. Retrieved June 16, 2022
- Chinnusamy, M., Eugin, P. R., & Janakiraman, S. (2021). A Study on the Effect of Alcoholism on the Family Members of Alcoholic Patients. Journal of Health and Allied Sciences NU, 11(02), 066-072.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021). Alcohol and the brain: An overview. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved June 16, 2022