What Causes Alcoholism? Symptoms, Causes & Treatment - Rehab Guide

What Causes Alcoholism?

What Causes Alcoholism?


What are the causes of alcoholism? 

The causes of alcoholism have been investigated and studied for many years. As a result, it has provided the addiction treatment world with much-needed information and understanding of how to treat alcoholism effectively.

Whilst there is no way of predicting who will develop a problem (there is still so much that is not fully understood) certain people will be more predisposed. 

In this article, we look at the common causes of alcoholism, how it develops and most importantly, how it can be treated using evidence-based treatments.

At Rehab Guide, we specialise in the successful treatment of addiction. We achieve this by professionally treating the factor that caused the condition and showing our patients how to live a life free from alcohol.

What defines an alcoholic?

No one sets out to be an alcoholic; neither do they factor it in their life plan.

Whilst most people can easily control their drinking, for some, this is impossible.

Why certain individuals develop a drinking problem is still a bit of a mystery. However,  The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has identified some common underlying contributing factors in those that suffer.

The common factors include:

Genetics – If there is a history of alcoholism or mental health illness in the family, a person’s brain and body could be more genetically susceptible to developing alcohol dependence. 1

Environmental factors – A person who is regularly exposed to alcohol (i.e. through family or lifestyle) or has been raised in a dysfunctional manner by their primary caretakers may also be more susceptible to developing alcoholism. 2

Trauma – Trauma, especially when experienced whilst the brain is still developing during childhood and teenage years, can cause lasting damage to several highly important parts of the brain, one of which is the brains limbic system. 

alcoholic brain

PTSDPost Traumatic Stress Disorder results from unresolved trauma and produces significant & lasting damage to the brain.

The limbic system part of the brain controls impulse and emotions. It is also responsible for laying down and forming memories.  Unresolved trauma can leave a person in a heightened state of fight or flight, and this can lead them to seek an alternative way to calm unmanageable emotions – drinking and drugs being a prime example 1

Mental health – Mental health problems unbalance the brains chemistry and can often lead to self-medication through substance abuse, especially if the correct treatment is not promptly sought and received.

History of drug and alcohol use – Although a person can potentially develop the disease at any point in their life, it is much more likely in a person that frequently abused alcohol during their teenage and young adulthood years. 2


Heavy drinking/binge drinking during teenage years can seriously impact on brain health and growth. These changes can be lasting and lead on to a drinking problem if not treated.

Whilst the brain is still in its developmental stage, and it is particularly vulnerable to damage caused by exposure to chemical substances. Those who suffer from addiction, usually (but not always) start using alcohol and drugs regularly throughout their developmental years.

Contrary to the belief that the brain is fully mature once a person reaches adulthood (aged 18), the human brain continues to develop until the age of 25. 3.

The longer an individual has suffered from addiction; the more challenging and complex the problem is to treat. This is why it is so important to seek help for an alcohol problem sooner rather than later. Alcoholism is a progressive disease of the brain; without treatment, the brain and body only ever suffer further deterioration.

Understanding and accepting alcoholism

For the person who is suffering, the whys are not so important. A person can get caught up in the reasons why they became alcoholic, and this can become a justification, as oppose to a treatable explanation.

It is important if you or a loved one suffer from a drinking problem to understand the nature of alcoholism. It is not only the family and loved ones that question why an individual suffering from an alcoholic problem repeats the same mistakes over and over but the sufferer also. They are often equally as baffled by their own behaviour and inability to exert willpower as far as alcohol is concerned.


Brain scans and numerous scientific and medical studies have shown that alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disorder of the brain, characterised by relapse and compulsive drinking despite adverse consequences to physical, emotional, social and occupational health 1

Over time and with repeated exposure to excessive alcohol intake, the brains tissues deteriorate and die. The dopamine reward centre also stops functioning as it should, and the brains metabolic rate is significantly slower than that of a healthy brain.

Many areas of the brain become chemically damaged, causing the brain to rewire itself to seek and drink alcohol compulsively. This is due to the brain reprioritising alcohol as the primary source of dopamine release and to support alcohol dependence. 

With this understanding, it can be easier to accept that the person suffering is not at fault. They are, however, still responsible for seeking and accessing the correct treatment.

In an individual that is extremely mentally and physically unwell, the family may need to intervene with the assistance of professional intervention.

Treating the conditions of alcoholism 

Just as a person with Type 1 diabetes or depression cannot think themselves better; they require specific professional treatment, an alcoholic cannot recover with the same mindset that enabled their addiction.

This is where the treatment needs to be bespoke; each individual will have varying treatment needs. There is no one size fits all for treating addiction, treatment plans need to be intricately tailored to the individual to be successful, they should factor in medical, psychological, emotional, educational and social treatment needs.

At Rehab Guide, we successfully treat all forms of addiction disorders. We achieve this by delivering a combination of traditional evidence-based treatments and cutting edge addiction treatments; each treatment is tailored to the individual.

Treatments are delivered in stages within our residential  rehab clinics and delivered in the following order for optimum success:

1.    Full medical alcohol detox

Where dependence is diagnosed, the alcohol must be stopped safely and comfortably before undergoing intensive treatment. We achieve this by providing a full medical detox with 24/7 assistance and monitoring.

Medical detox involves replacing alcohol with approved pharmaceutical medication. The medication is then gently tapered off over a period of days until it is safe to stop. This process ensures safety comes first; detoxing from alcohol can cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms if not medically managed.

2.     Bespoke intensive treatment plan consisting of evidence-based treatments

Once the alcohol has been safely stopped, the brain requires intensive rehabilitation. We cannot emphasise enough that detox is not enough to treat alcoholism effectively on its own. With the brain remaining in the same damaged state, the likelihood of relapse is extremely high.

Our rehabilitation programmes cover all areas of the person’s life that have been affected by their alcohol abuse, including day to day living, occupation, relationships, socialising and coping with emotions.

With alcohol out of the equation, a person suffering from alcoholism will need to learn how to live an alcohol-free life, this is something that does not come naturally, nor automatically.

At Rehab Guide, our multidisciplinary teams of distinguished treatment professionals deliver proven and effective rehabilitation treatments.

The outcome of undergoing one of our intensive rehabilitation programmes is that the individual will have learned healthy and effective coping mechanisms and strategies, acquired the latest in relapse prevention techniques, undergone profound healing and adopted a programme that will enable them to maintain their sobriety and continue to grow and evolve as a person.

3.    Aftercare / Sober living accommodation

Aftercare is a vital part of maintaining sobriety. Attending support sessions enables our clients to connect with their peers and have a safe place to share their thoughts and feeling without fear of judgment.

Continuation of treatment overseen by a qualified alcohol counsellor offers many benefits to a newly sober person and enriches their quality of life.

We also ensure all of our clients are introduced to local alcohol support networks back home and continue to support them and their families once inpatient rehab treatment has been completed.

For more information and how we at Rehab Guide offer effective bespoke treatment, please call 02072052845 and speak to a member of our team today.




  1. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol use disorders. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders
  2. Family, social and individual factors contributing to the risk of adolescent substance use. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4008086/
  3. Maturation of the adolescent brain https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3621648/



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