Alcoholism, also known as an addiction to alcohol or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic brain disorder. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) explains alcohol use disorder as a “medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.” It is a complex disease involving physical and psychological changes that occur with consistent alcohol use. The precise cause of alcoholism remains unknown. However, several risk factors have been identified as increasing one’s susceptibility to alcoholism, some of which include the following:
- Biological factors: Research has found a close link between genetics/ physiology and alcoholism. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry assert that children of alcoholics are four times more likely than other children to become alcoholics themselves.
- Environmental Factors: People exposed to heavy alcohol consumption at a young age may be more likely to develop alcohol use disorder than those who are not.
- Social Factors: Social situations where alcohol consumption is encouraged and/ or widely acceptable essentially provides a young person with permission to engage in unhealthy drinking. Further, factors such as the availability of alcohol, peer pressure, social class, and any kind of abuse can play a role in the development of alcohol addiction.
- Psychological Factors: Young people who suffer from other mental health conditions are more likely to abuse drugs and/ or alcohol, and certain mental health disorders are common among those with alcohol use disorder. Studies have also found that stress is closely linked with increased alcohol consumption, and increased alcohol consumption is closely linked to developing alcohol use disorder.
Data from a survey of 43,000 U.S. adults illuminated an indisputable association between early drinking age and risk of alcoholism, independent of other risk factors. The analysis results found that of those individuals who began drinking before age 14, 47% experienced dependence at some point, versus 9% of those who began drinking at age 21 or older. According to the data, experts further concluded that “each additional year earlier than 21 that a respondent began to drink, the greater the odds that he or she would develop alcohol dependence at some point in life.” Alcohol is the most used substance by youth and adults in the United States.
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