Who Would Most Likely Develop an Alcohol Addiction in Adulthood

Administrator / Chief Clinical Officer
Certified cognitive-behavioral therapist, expert addiction and chemical dependency counselor, certified for more than twenty years of experience in adolescent, adult and family psychotherapy.
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Alcoholism in a Nutshell

Alcoholism, or what is known as “Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)” in the healthcare system, is a condition more complex than we think. In fact, this disorder is actually so intricate and compounded it transcends mere excessive consumption of alcohol.

Alcoholism as defined above is a disorder that yields an uncontrollable urge to drink alcohol in excess of social norms, despite the very public and widely known consequences to one’s physical health, mental stability, and interpersonal relationships.

Individuals afflicted with alcoholism (AUD) often find themselves in a perpetual cycle of developing a tolerance for alcohol thus leading them to drink greater amounts of it to obtain the desired high. Eventually, this greater amount of alcohol consumed over time can lead to the body developing a physical dependency for it where the body actually demands alcohol to operate and any attempt to decrease or stop drinking can cause intense withdrawal symptoms.

Identifying alcoholism before it gets out of hand can lead to effective rehabilitation. Most symptoms of AUD include the following:

  • Physical Symptoms: Blackouts, Red Face, Stomach problems, Unsteady Coordination.
  • Behavioral Symptoms: Drinking in isolation (non-social), Violent or Aggressive while drinking, Forsaking personal and professional duties.
  • Emotional Symptoms: Mood swings, Irritability, Feeling bad after drinking, Defensive about your drinking.
signs of alcoholism

Risk Factors for Developing Alcohol Addiction in Adulthood

A common but misguided stereotype of a person with alcohol-related problems is of someone who is “down and out.” But people in all areas of life are vulnerable to developing problematic drinking patterns and AUD.

The roots of alcoholism can be traced to a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Some individuals may be genetically predisposed to develop AUD due to family history. Others might turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress, trauma, or underlying mental health disorders.

Environmental triggers, such as peer pressure or living in a culture where heavy drinking is normalized, can further worsen the problem. Understanding alcoholism requires a holistic approach, recognizing it not simply as a series of poor choices but as a profound interplay of biology, environment, and personal experiences.

Of all the factors that contribute to developing AUD, these are the primary ones:

Drinking At an Early Age

Studies show that the earlier the onset of drinking, the greater the risk of AUD. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that . among people ages 26 and older, those who began drinking before age 15 were more than three times as likely to report having AUD in the past year as those who waited until age 21 or later to begin drinking. And the risk for females in this group is higher than that of males.

Heavy drinking in teenagers aged 12-17 predicts future AUD, often due to family stressors. The adolescent brain is more susceptible to the addictive effects of alcohol, making it easier for regular alcohol use to lead to addiction.

In young adulthood, from 18 to the late twenties, drinking alcohol is far more common than during adolescence. This group is at greatest risk for developing AUD. Late 20s to mid-life adults who drank heavily in their young adult years reduce their drinking substantially over time.

Genetics and Family History of Alcohol Problems

NIAA also reported that genetics play a role, with hereditability accounting for approximately 60%; however, like other chronic health conditions, AUD risk is influenced by the interplay between a person’s genes and their environment. Parents’ drinking patterns may also influence the likelihood that a child will one day develop AUD.

Mental Health Conditions and a History of Trauma

Many psychiatric conditions—including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—co-occur with and are associated with an increased risk of AUD. Those with a history of childhood trauma are also vulnerable to AUD.

risks of alcoholism

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Addiction

For both men and women, the less you drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol. Alcohol affects every body system, so it can cause health problems throughout the body. Alcohol is directly linked to over 40 medical conditions, including:

  • Cancers such as stomach cancer, bowel cancer, breast cancer, mouth cancer, throat cancer, oesophageal cancer and liver cancer
  • Heart issues such as high blood pressure, heart damage and heart attacks
  • Increased risk of diabetes and weight gain
  • Brain damage and brain-related conditions such as stroke and dementia
  • Cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure.
  • Digestive problems such as acid reflux
  • Impotence and other problems with sexual performance
  • Fertility issues such as reduced sperm count and reduced testosterone levels in men
  • Mental health conditions such as increased risk of suicide

The impact can range from mild symptoms to life-threatening health conditions and mental disorders.

Alcohol abuse can also have an important negative impact on our psychological and social functioning, including:

  • Personal relationship issues
  • Family relationships
  • Friendships
  • Finances
  • Job loss
  • Mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.

How to Treat Alcoholism

Treatment requires a combination of approaches:

Common therapies that can help include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a structured program that aids individuals in understanding the interplay between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. By identifying and challenging harmful beliefs, CBT helps in developing coping strategies to manage stress, anxiety, and other emotional challenges, thereby fostering a positive behavioral change.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy is tailored to assist individuals in building a life that feels meaningful and worth living. DBT emphasizes balancing acceptance and change, equipping individuals with skills to manage painful emotions, and decreasing conflict in relationships, to ensure recovery.

Individual Therapy

Individual Therapy provides a safe, confidential space where individuals can explore their feelings, beliefs, and behaviors, work through challenging memories, and identify aspects that they would like to change. 

Family Therapy

Family has a pivotal role in the recovery process to mend broken relationships and foster a supportive environment at home. 

Ongoing Support and Lifestyle Changes

Long-term recovery typically requires ongoing support and lifestyle changes to maintain sobriety and prevent relapse. Support groups are an important part of recovery and relapse prevention. Lifestyle changes are usually required to avoid people, places and things that may be triggering.

At The Encino Recovery and Detox Center, we don’t just treat addiction; we nurture the spirit, heal the mind, and empower individuals to reclaim their lives. If you or a loved one is seeking a way out of the darkness of alcohol addiction, remember that help is just a call away. Your journey begins with that first step.


Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 
Risk Factors: Varied Vulnerability to Alcohol-Related Harm. 2024. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Administrator / Chief Clinical Officer
Certified cognitive-behavioral therapist, expert addiction and chemical dependency counselor, certified for more than twenty years of experience in adolescent, adult and family psychotherapy.
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