The late Rev. Dwayne Olson, who was the inspiration for this web
site, said it this way:
“One drink is too much and all of Lake Michigan is not enough.”
A recovering alcoholic for more than 50 years, Rev. Olson understood that for him, taking that first drink meant trouble. But was that the cause of his alcoholism?
Some can drink and never get addicted
To understand the nature of the disease, we first must try to identify the criteria necessary for the disease to be present. Dr. Carlton Erickson of the University of Texas, explained to a large group of counselors that some people, no matter how much they drink, will not become alcoholics, because the criteria as outlined in DSM-IV (see below) is not evident.
But if drinking is not the cause, what is? One person can take one drink and experience the “click,” while another has no issues.
Setting aside risk factors for a moment, an interesting commonality among those suffering from the disease is their journey from just taking a drink to enjoy the effects of alcohol, to losing control over their drinking.
Many talk about “self medicating” to just feel normal, to get through the day. They have no choice. The first step in the 12 Steps centers on that loss of control, “…that our lives had become unmanageable.”
The Alcoholics Anonymous “Big Book” suggests a process by which people move down the disease path and become alcoholics that is not having any control over their drinking.
We have at one point in time a choice to stop (pg. 32), but once the disease develops even if we do stop for a long period of time, we are still alcoholics. Many talk about people being a “dry drunk,” someone who has not had a drink, but who would immediately be in trouble if they took one.
Chicken and Egg Issue
Perhaps the cause of alcoholism is a chicken and egg issue. If one never drinks, they will not be an alcoholic. Or, if they do drink and drink too much for too long, the disease develops. Henny Youngman, the beloved comedian, lifts up his arm and tells his doctor, “Doc, it hurts when I do that.” The doctor replies “Don’t do that.” But that doesn’t explain why one person can drink and another can’t.
The science is advancing on the cause issue, we more information is uncovered as to brain chemistry, neuro pathways and ways to block the effects of alcohol and other drugs. The research serves to explain some of the physical reasons why, the causes. Erickson’s site provides an exhaustive collection of data and articles (http://www.utexas.edu/research/asrec/) and it’s a fascinating read.
We believe the most important question to ask the addict/alcoholic is “What hurts?” People want to feel good. They want to feel normal.
Is alcoholism caused by a mental disease?
There is evidence to suggest that there are psychological factors, but the “Big Book” offers another cause behind the disease. “If, when you honestly want to, you find that you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer.” (pg. 44)
What risk factors are alcoholism causes?
There are several possible risk factors for the disease. The individual is the determining factor when assessing risk of contracting the disease. One or more of these causes/risk factors can indicate the presence of alcohol abuse or alcohol use disorder.
Genetic Predisposition: If your parents or grandparents were addicted to alcohol, the chances are strong that you will be vulnerable to the disease. Healthcare professionals will take a family history to look for risk factors for many diseases. Alcoholism is no different. Children of alcoholics will not necessarily become alcoholics themselves, but the medical history indicates a possibility.
Psychological: People suffering from depression or low self esteem may be more likely to develop a drinking problem. They are more likely to try to “fit in” with their friends, who “enable” the problem to continue.
Emotional Makeup: People may use alcohol to block the pain in the life. Alcohol is used as a coping device and there are certain stress hormones that may contribute to the progression of the disease.
Social: Alcohol is legal, readily available and drinking is socially acceptable. Alcohol is promoted heavily in the media, and having a few beers before, during and after a sporting event is part of American culture. There is a peer pressure to drink, to be a part of the crowd.
Age: Young people are at greater risk of developing
alcoholism, especially if they start drinking by age 16 or sooner. If
one waits until age 21, the probability goes down dramatically.Drinking early is a common part of alcoholism causes.
Frequency of consumption: Drinking alcohol regularly can cause alcoholism. People who drink regularly over time may be at risk of developing a physical dependence on alcohol.
If studies show that one/two drinks per day for the average person (15 per week for men, 12 per week for women) is within safe limits, then it follows that going beyond that limit can produce problems. The probability is that one in nine will develop the disease.
Gender: Men are more likely to develop the disease than women.
If a person has alcoholism causes risk factors at play, that does not mean they are automatically going to develop the disease; it is not necessarily alcoholism causes. It is possible, likewise, for a person with no risk factors at all, no family history, to develop the disease.
It can’t happen to me!
Another common mistake people make is assuming “it won’t happen to me.” In a society that glorifies alcohol consumption, from beers at sporting events, to fine wines at upscale establishments, the risk factors are obvious. Two martini lunches and bourbon on the rocks after office hours are indicators that
Americans embrace alcohol use. They generally ignore alcoholism causes. Alcohol is everywhere. Education is important, to understand how the disease progresses, how it can be managed or avoided, and how it impacts our society in general. Not everybody who drinks develops the disease, but it is important to understand that it is possible and that moderation is a key element in maintaining a healthy balance. If there are risk factors present, if a person begins to use alcohol more frequently, or daily, then there may be a problem.
Everywhere in our culture
Because alcohol is so prevalent in our society, because it is so widely accepted if not embraced, it is difficult to see when a person is slipping from social drinking into something more problematic. The individual who is on the downward slide is not likely to recognize any of the signs and therefore needs others to intercede.
We encourage you to examine these risk factors and alcoholism causes to see if there is a problem in your life, or with someone you love, or someone you know. If there is, please seek the help of an alcohol treatment professional.
DSM-IV –TR Criteria for Substance Dependence
Three or more of the following must be present in order for an individual to be diagnosed with a chemical use disorder:
• Substance taken for a longer time and in greater amounts than intended
• Desire or efforts to reduce or control use
• Much time spent trying to obtain substance
• Social, recreational or occupational activities given up or reduced
• Continued use despite knowing problems caused by substance
DSM-IV-TR Criteria for Substance Abuse
Maladaptive use of substance shown by 1 of the following:
• Failure to meet obligations
• Repeated use in situations where it is physically dangerous
• Repeated substance-related legal problems
• Continued use despite problems caused by substance