A risk factor is anything that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.
It is possible to develop alcoholism with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing alcoholism. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.
The following factors can increase your risk of alcoholism:
Alcohol abuse is five times more frequent in men than in women. Men are more likely to be binge drinkers and alcoholics than women are. However, the incidence of alcoholism in women has been on the rise in the past 30 years. Women tend to become alcoholics later in life than men, but the condition has a faster progression in women.
Alcoholism tends to run in families. This has led researchers to conclude that a genetic predisposition to developing alcohol abuse problems may exist. The rate of alcoholism in men with no alcoholic parents is approximately 11%. For men with one alcoholic parent, the rate of alcoholism is approximately 30%. A family history of alcoholism is also seen in women, although the link is somewhat weaker.
Some studies suggest that genetic factors affecting the way people’s body's process and respond to alcohol may also influence an individual’s risk of becoming an alcoholic.
Alcoholism is clearly more of a problem in some cultures than in others. For example, rates of alcoholism are high in Europe and the United States where alcohol consumption is common and socially acceptable. In American culture, alcohol is often used as a social lubricant and a means of reducing tension. In religious groups, such as Mormons or Muslims who abstain from drinking alcohol, the incidence of alcoholism is minimal. Higher rates of alcohol abuse and alcoholism are also related to peer pressure and easy access to alcohol.
Researchers have found that certain psychological factors increase an individual’s risk for alcohol abuse and alcoholism. These factors include having high self-expectations, having a low frustration tolerance, feeling inadequate and unsure of one's roles, needing an inordinate amount of praise and reassurance, and having a tendency to be impulsive and aggressive.
Researchers have found high rates of alcohol abuse disorders among people with anxiety disorders, depression, antisocial and other personality disorders, schizophrenia, and other substance abuse disorders, such as smoking and illicit drug use. People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder also have a higher rate of alcoholism (and other substance use disorders), as do those with post-traumatic stress disorder.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2000.
Carson RC, Butcher JN, et al. Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life. 11th ed. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon; 2000.
Module 10H: ethnicity, culture, and alcohol. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcholism website. Available at: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Social/Module10HEthnicity&Culture/Module10H.html. Accessed April 14, 2007
Stern, TA et al. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier, 2008.
Last reviewed February 2014 by Peter J. Lucas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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