Peering Into The Science of Alcoholism

Psychology of alcoholismAlcoholism is nothing new to modern society, but we have only recently begun to understand it in the past century. Alcohol has been a part of human culture for thousands of years, and alcoholism throughout history has often been portrayed as silly, stupid or even an endearing characteristic. We’ve all seen the movies or read a book where a funny drunk is stumbling about saying ridiculous things in broken speech patterns. However, we’ve come to realize it is a much more serious issue than that would suggest. Alcoholism is a chronic disease that affects 15 million people in the US alone, and 88,000 deaths are attributed to excessive alcohol use each year according to the Center for Disease Control.

What is Alcoholism?

You can get drunk or even die because of intoxication without actually being an alcoholic. After all, a drunk driver can die in an accident after only one night of drinking. So, what makes a person an alcoholic?

For most, a drink or two is a perfectly acceptable thing to enjoy on a night out with friends. For others, one drink leads to more and more. However, even heavy drinkers may not be actual alcoholics. For instance, a college frat guy can binge drink all weekend and can stay sober during the week while focusing on academics. While he is abusing alcohol in a way that is undoubtedly bad for him, it doesn’t make him an alcoholic.

Alcohol abuse is drinking in a way that negatively affects responsibilities or puts you in dangerous situations like a driving drunk. On the other hand, alcoholism is defined by a person’s physical dependence on the substance.


Why can people drink without getting addicted while others can’t? There are many factors that may explain why one person can drink while one sip leads to problems for another. An individual’s genetics, physiology, psychology and social situation can all contribute to alcoholism.

Genetic Predisposition – It seems clear that heredity plays a role in some people’s alcohol addictions. The child of an alcoholic parent is more likely to become alcoholic than the children of sober parents. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “genes are responsible for about half of the risk for alcoholism” which means they are a contributing factor but not the only one. The good news is that even if you have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism you can still avoid or overcome an addiction.

Brain and Mind – Drinking changes the chemical reactions in your brain, specifically in your reward or pleasure center. It causes dopamine to be released which contributes to things like arousal, motivation and generally good feelings. Since alcohol has these gratifying effects on a person, someone who is prone to stress, nervousness or low self-esteem may be more likely to become addicted than others.

Social Contributors – Alcoholism is said to affect young people more than the elderly. This may partly be due to the fact that young impressionable people are more susceptible to things like alcohol glamorizing peer pressure, advertisements, or cultural environments.

The Warning Signs

Whatever the cause, there are often clear warning signs that point to alcohol abuse or alcoholism. If you suspect yourself or a loved one of alcoholism address the issues immediately. The Ambrosia Drug Treatment Centers has a 24 hour addiction hotline and a live chat if you have questions. You may need to ask for help if you or someone you know:

  • Drinks to ease emotional pain
  • Often drinks alone
  • Often gets blackout drunk (has missing memories after drinking)
  • Is irritable or stressed when sober

Remember that no matter the cause or predisposition, it is still possible to conquer an alcohol addiction.
Image courtesy of