What Causes Alcohol Addiction?

man with alcohol addiction drinking beer

Alcohol addiction is a mental disorder characterized by compulsive alcohol consumption, a loss of control over how much you drink, and difficulty coping when you’re not drinking. Otherwise known as alcohol use disorder, alcohol addiction often begins with social drinking that becomes heavier due to an increased tolerance and eventually results in alcohol dependence. People with alcohol addiction continue to drink despite relationship issues, legal trouble, and other negative consequences that arise because of their drinking. 

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 16 million Americans have alcohol use disorder. And yet, some people can drink moderately without ever developing a problem, leading many to question what actually causes alcohol addiction. 

What causes alcohol addiction? 

Alcohol addiction cannot be linked to a single cause, but there are a number of risk factors that increase the likelihood of a person developing alcohol use disorder. Some of those factors include:


Genetics have been shown to play a role in the development of alcohol addiction.  One twin study found that among male identical twins, when one was an alcoholic, there was a 50% chance that the other would become one, too. In female identical twins, there was a 30% chance. This shows that while genetics clearly play a role, they do not guarantee the development of alcohol addiction.   

Family culture

When children are raised in a family environment of alcoholism and alcohol abuse, they have a higher likelihood of developing alcohol dependence themselves. This is due in part to genetics as well as to to the verbal and physical abuse, neglect, and trauma associated with living in a household with an alcoholic parent. 

Environmental stresses

People with high stress occupations or physically demanding jobs, or whose workplace is particularly hostile, are more likely to become dependent on alcohol to relieve the pressure and calm their nerves. Construction workers, doctors, lawyers, police officers, food service workers, and miners tend have high rates of alcohol addiction. Of course, not every lawyer or bartender will develop alcohol use disorder, but the prevalence is higher among people whose daily lives are spent under pressure in stressful environments.   

Depression and other mental health issues

Many people drink to mask their symptoms of depression or other mental health issues. In some cases, they don’t even know they have a mental disorder—they only know that alcohol suddenly makes them feel better. Someone with an anxiety disorder may discover that they’re more relaxed with alcohol, while someone with depression may experience a peppiness or a loss of inhibition when they drink. The self-medicating effects of alcohol often lead people suffering from mental health issues to drink more and more just to cope with daily life, thus increasing the risk of developing alcohol addiction.    

Peer pressure

We all want to fit in with our peers. And what’s more, our peers want us to fit in with them as well. Although many teenagers have their first drink in the company of friends, teens are not the only people affected by peer pressure. Work colleagues might encourage drinking at happy hour and at conferences, leading to an increase in a person’s alcohol consumption that might not have happened otherwise. The same can be true for Sunday brunch or a football game with friends, when a person gives in to the pressure to partake in a round of shots or have just one more drink because everyone else is doing the same. For teens and adults alike, peer pressure can lead to a higher tolerance for alcohol and a higher likelihood of alcohol use disorder. 

Alvarado Parkway offers alcoholism treatment in San Diego

Alcohol addiction is a treatable disease, and at Alvarado Parkway, we offer both inpatient and outpatient programs designed to help patients overcome their symptoms, develop positive coping skills, and learn to live healthy, sober lives.  Whether you’re seeking treatment for an addictive disorder with or without a co-occurring mental health disorder, our staff of doctors and mental health professionals will customize an addiction treatment program that helps you experience freedom from your addiction so you can live your best life and become the person you most want to be. Give us a call at 619-667-6125, and let’s start your recovery today.