Alcohol addiction, or alcoholism, occurs when the individual has a drive to use alcohol, regardless of the unwanted consequences. Addiction is different from dependence: dependence is a physiological process while addiction is psychological. Though they can occur separately, they usually emerge at the same time.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is considered a mental health disorder in which the drug causes lasting changes in the brain’s functioning. These changes make continued use and relapse more likely in the future. Because symptoms can range from mild to severe in intensity, alcoholism can create numerous effects on someone’s mental, physical, social and spiritual health.
Many variables and individual differences increase the risk of alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction. Some of the most prevalent risk factors for alcohol addiction include:
- Binge drinking and heavy drinking
- Drinking before age 15
- Genetics and a family history of alcohol problems
- Co-occurring mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety, personality disorders and schizophrenia
- History of traumatic experiences
Not everyone who abuses alcohol will develop an addiction, but as use continues, the risk grows.