Determining the factors that create addiction to alcohol is difficult. While recognizing addiction to alcohol is believed to be simple, there is a great deal of research to determine its addictive properties. Throughout history, there is evidence that abuse of alcohol has been a societal problem dealt with in differing ways. However, no single cause for addiction is yet accomplished.
Most drinkers enjoy the release of tension and stress they receive with the first drink. They lose enough inhibition and caution to drink another, and another, and another. Many can stop at this point, but those who are going to become addicted cannot. They may force themselves to stop, but the lure of escape beckons, and they will eventually go back to find that release again and again. Cares disappear, worries are removed, insecurities are overcome, and freedom from the daily toil of life can be quickly forgotten. No wonder alcohol has been called the “elixir of the Gods”! While alcohol itself is not addictive by nature, for some it will become a problematic solution that will escalate to unforeseen levels as dependence increases.
Coping skills are unnecessary when alcohol works so quickly. Alcohol gives easy relief from everything. Warning signs of addiction are: the necessity of escaping regularly, ongoing use despite serious consequences, and continuing drinking behaviors when faced with legal and financial disaster, loss of jobs, loss of family relationships, and serious health problems. As in many addictions, ego defenses of denial and hiding will confound these patterns.
Addictive Personality Traits
Similarities have been recognized in the personality formations of alcoholic drinkers that seem to form patterns. For many years, the idea that some people were pre-determined by virtue of genetic makeup for becoming addicted to alcohol was believed to be the strongest link to alcoholism. While that possibility remains feasible, there are some other factors that are seen to be at play. Because research points to early childhood development patterns, it is easy to understand that there are behavioral aspects to addiction to alcohol, as well.
One of the factors is the escape mentality of avoiding day-to-day stressors. Research points to adolescent binge drinking as a factor in those who later develop alcohol dependence. If alcohol dependence is a developmental problem, binge drinking in early adolescence delays emotional growth, thus they can become stuck in adolescent behaviors.
This explains the immaturity of alcohol dependent people. They often remain as self-centered as adolescents and insecure about their status in life. Their compensatory behaviors and defense mechanisms will be those of a 12 or 13 year-old who is attempting to bluff their way through situations they cannot deal with emotionally.
These ego defenses do not serve well for men and women who are also exhibiting drinking behaviors that are advancing to socially unacceptable levels; behaviors such as driving under the influence, missing work with hangovers, fighting, and making irresponsible financial decisions are problematic.
Costs of Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction drives millions of dollars of insurance costs each year. As it cost billions of dollars in law enforcement and court costs to intervene, it is an important issue. During the 1980s and 1990s, it was determined that nearly 70% of all those incarcerated in jails, prisons, and other penal institutions in the state of California were related to drug and/or alcohol-inspired crimes or those committed under the influence of one or the other. This statistic has led many states to address the addiction to alcohol and other drugs as a social necessity.
Medicine sees the costs of alcohol dependence and/or abuse as a high cost item on their list of problems as well. While there has never been a cure for alcohol addiction or dependence, the 12 Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, the first of its kind in the world, has had some success with helping alcoholics maintain abstinence from alcohol. When abstinent for long periods of time, those who present with an addiction to alcohol are capable of reversing the physical damage done by alcohol. Most of that physical damage can be reversed. However, those who continue to abuse alcohol are likely to suffer from numerous physical complications that can, and do, lead to death.
Because the mechanisms driving addiction are undetermined, there is little success in finding a cure. Abstinence is the only method to stop the chronic and compulsive drinking for an addict. Recognizing and recovering from alcohol addiction is one of the biggest puzzles to modern science.
Wake Forest Baptist Health. (2006). Visions. What Drives Alcohol Addiction. Retrieved online from http://www.wakehealth.edu/Health-Central/What-Drives-Alcohol-Addiction/
Miller, W.R. Alcohol and Its Effects on Behavior. Retrieved online from: http://casaa.unm.edu/info/AlcholandItsEffectsonBehavior/
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American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fourth Edition, Text Revision.