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Alcohol Abuse and Dependence - What Increases Your Risk

Many people drink alcohol throughout their lives without any problems. Other people who drink alcohol have problems with it. Why do some people abuse alcohol and become dependent on it, while others don't?

Certain things make an alcohol problem more likely. These are called risk factors.

Risk factors include:2

  • Genes. People with alcohol problems often have a family history of alcohol abuse and dependence.
  • Being male. A man is 3 times more likely to develop problems with alcohol than a woman is.
  • Early use. The younger you were when you first started drinking alcohol, the higher your risk for alcohol problems later as an adult.
  • Mental health. If you have mental health problems, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or anxiety disorders, you are more likely to use alcohol.
  • Use of other substances. You are more likely to abuse alcohol if you abuse other things, such as tobacco, illegal drugs, or prescription medicines.
  • Environment. If you live in an area where alcohol is easy to get, people drink a lot, or heavy drinking is accepted as part of life, you are more likely to drink.
  • Friends. Your friends may influence you to drink by directly urging you to or by drinking when you're around them.
  • Problems with others. You may be more likely to drink when you are having problems in your family or with friends.
  • Not having purpose or satisfaction in your life. If you have no activities that give you a sense of purpose, you may be more likely to drink.

Just because you have risk factors for alcohol problems doesn't mean you'll have a drinking problem. A person who has many risk factors won't always develop alcoholism. And a person with no risk factors can become dependent on alcohol.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 17, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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