Alcohol is one of the world’s most popular and accessible drugs. The ubiquity of alcohol consumption, however, belies the major health risks associated with alcohol abuse. In 2012 alone, according to the World Health Organization, alcohol abuse was responsible for over 3.3 million deaths across the globe.
The dangers of alcoholism are numerous and pervasive. Physical dependence, cancer, liver disease and personal injuries are common among those who consume large amounts of alcohol on a frequent basis.
It’s important to note that these risk factors are widely known. Most Americans are educated on the numerous health risks that accompany alcohol abuse from a young age via school programs, televised health campaigns, and social media. However, the effectiveness of this messaging has been inconsistent at best – data collected by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reveals that nearly 27 percent of Americans ages 18 or older participated in binge drinking in 2015.
Considering that Americans are generally well-educated regarding the risks of excessive alcohol use, it is surprising that that so many individuals continue to put their health, well-being and loved ones in danger by abusing alcohol. A closer look at the issue shows that several factors, ranging from social pressures to genetics, encourage people to drink heavily regardless of the consequences. Understanding these motivators is a crucial step toward identifying the factors that drive loved ones into bouts of self-destructive drinking.
Multiple Factors Encourage Alcohol Abuse
Researchers have studied alcohol use for decades, but these investigations have yet to identify a simple explanation as to why people choose to abuse alcohol. Instead, data has revealed that the causes of alcohol addiction are complex and nuanced. It’s common for those who abuse alcohol to do so for multiple reasons and those motivators are often interrelated. Additionally, the causes of alcoholism vary significantly across economic, cultural and generational boundaries.
Compare the typical reasons a college student may fall prey to alcohol abuse to the factors motivating a senior citizen. A desire to meet new people and constant pressure from peers are among the most common reasons that college students choose to drink heavily. Alternatively, older adults with greater financial resources and smaller social circles may be more motivated to abuse alcohol in response to long-term loneliness.
The major takeaway from this comparison is that treating the addiction like a simple cause-effect relationship is an ineffective strategy for identifying the reasons that individuals choose to abuse alcohol. A comprehensive approach provides a more accurate picture of the forces that make friends, family and loved ones vulnerable to the self-destructive cycles that characterize alcoholism.
Peer Pressure and Substance Abuse
Social dynamics play a large part in determining how susceptible an individual is to abusing alcohol. This trend is especially prevalent among college students, many of whom have left the structure and security of their family home for the first time and are coping with a completely new environment. In situations like these, college students are very susceptible to the influence of their peer group. In fact, an article published by the Department of Applied Psychology at NYU Reinhardt emphasized the unique role that peer pressure plays in encouraging students to participate in “risk-taking behaviors.”
While the impacts of peer pressure are typically associated with adolescence and early adulthood, individuals at all ages are susceptible to the influence of their peer group. Many office employees, for example, face social pressure to participate in work-related happy hours on a weekly basis. Scenarios like these can contribute to an individual falling into alcohol abuse just as readily as a college tailgate party.
Early Exposure to Alcohol
Many individuals who struggle with alcohol abuse began drinking long before they were able to understand the long-term side effects of their consumption. Scenarios like these are especially prevalent among children who observe unhealthy drinking habits at home – the natural instinct of children to model their parent’s behavior can become a gateway toward alcoholism.
Data analysis performed by the Kansas State University emphasizes the pervasiveness of this trend. According to KSU, nearly half (47%) of individuals who began drinking prior to the age of 14 eventually developed a dependence on alcohol. Among those who started drinking after the age of 20, however, only 9% began to abuse alcohol later in life. This data suggests that many individuals who fall victim to self-destructive drinking patterns in their adult lives do so as a direct result of early exposure to alcoholism.
Alcohol as Coping Mechanism
It’s not uncommon for an individual to begin drinking more heavily in response to overwhelming or traumatic experiences. A divorce, loss of a family member, career disappointment and a long list of other negative experiences can have severe, lasting emotional impacts and subsequently encourage men and women to turn to alcohol as an escape.
An article published by the Royal Society of Arts noted that individuals turn to alcohol in times of anxiety and emotional turmoil because of the substance’s unique chemical properties. Alcohol is a psychoactive drug that efficiently limits communications between neurons. By hindering the transmission of electrical signals in the brain, individuals feel less affected by negative thoughts and are more able to live in the moment. This state of mental dissociation is an attractive option for people facing extreme emotional hardship, resulting in higher risks for alcohol abuse as individuals leverage drunkenness as a form of self-help therapy.
A detailed understanding of why individuals turn to alcohol in spite of the numerous health risks highlights the multifaceted nature of substance abuse. If a family member or a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse, it’s dangerous to assume that such a complex problem can be addressed with a simple solution. That’s why it’s so vital for those looking to overcome their addiction to identify a reputable, established treatment center where their unique experiences will be respected.