Many people drink but few become alcoholics.

There are several risk factors, some of which may be interrelated. The more factors you have, the greater your risk.

Family history–A large component of addiction is physiological, and much of your physiology is determined or strongly influenced by your genes. The easiest way to know if you have a genetic disposition toward addiction is to look at your family. If one or more of your close relatives is alcohol dependent, you are at a higher risk.

Beyond the genetic component, having a parent or close relative who drinks makes drinking to excess seem normal or even expected. It becomes the default. When that happens, the thought of not drinking seems abnormal.

When a parent or close relative drinks, it also increases the availability of alcohol. That can influence another risk factor–starting young.

Starting young–The younger you start drinking, the more likely you are to become dependent. It’s less common for children or teens to become alcohol dependent, but early drinking may sow the seeds of future dependence. In addition to starting the process of physical dependence, early drinking may alter brain development, making self control more difficult later in life.

Depression or anxiety–People who suffer from depression and anxiety often drink more. This is often referred to as “self-medicating.” The link may be due to self-medication or there may be other motivations involved. Whatever the case, depression or anxiety make you more vulnerable to addiction.

Social pressure–If your friends drink or your partner drinks, you are more likely to drink. It’s the dreaded peer pressure we’ve all been warned of since elementary school. It’s difficult to be the only one your group not drinking, and if you have other risk factors, the pressure is even more intense.

Habit–Even if you don’t have any of the other risk factors, you can form a drinking habit that may lead to dependency. If drinking is part of your daily routine, especially if there is a reliable cue involved–for example, you come home from work, turn on the TV and have a drink–then addiction might take root.

It’s especially dangerous if that routine involves meeting friends at a bar, which adds the pressure of social expectation. Once the habit is set, then physical dependence can creep in.


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