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How Does a Person Become an Alcoholic?

People who struggle with alcohol abuse have faced shame, misunderstanding and punishment for the disease of alcoholism. Cultural understanding of what causes alcoholism has come a long way, but even now there is a lot of misinformation about this powerful addiction. Learn more about the disease of alcoholism and discover how alcohol abuse becomes an alcohol addiction.

Alcoholism Is Caused by Both Genetics and Environment

Many psychologists have studied the causes of alcoholism, and there are more studies being conducted every day. New research indicates that there is a genetic component to addiction, and scientists have even found specific genes linked to alcohol, illegal drug and nicotine addiction.* Other studies find that addiction can also be triggered by environmental influences such as stress or trauma. Both genetics and environment play a role in causing addiction. The more scientists learn about the disease of addiction, the better treatment has become.

The Stages of Alcoholism

Alcohol addiction begins small and grows over time. Without treatment, it will take over a person’s life. There are stages of alcoholism that help explain how a person becomes an alcoholic. The first stage of alcoholism involves the following:

  • The alcohol user builds a tolerance to alcohol, as the body begins to adapt to alcohol consumption
  • There is usually little impact on a person’s life during this stage, and it can be difficult to detect
  • There may be a lot of “partying” and social drinking during this phase
  • The drinker may ignore larger problems such as life stressors, depression or other issues

The second stage of alcoholism involves the following:

  • During this stage social drinking may begin to give way to problem drinking
  • The alcoholic may drink to overcome hangovers, and the alcoholic may crave the taste or feeling of drinking alcohol
  • The person will experience a loss of control that may cause embarrassing situations or lead to drunk or buzzed driving
  • The person may experience blackouts which are periods of time that the person cannot remember

Stage three of alcoholism includes the following:

  • This stage begins when the alcoholic is suffering from a series of health problems due to alcoholism
  • Career, family and happiness are severely impacted during this stage

There Is Help for Alcohol Abuse

You can recover from alcohol abuse during any phase of alcoholism. A person does not have to hit “rock bottom” before seeking help. If left untreated, alcoholism will remain a severe and progressive disease. Let us help you. We offer a toll-free helpline that can connect you to alcohol treatment options that work. We can help you find everything from reliable, licensed treatment experts to insurance coverage for rehab. Let us help you today.


*Edwards, A. C., Svikis, D. S., Pickens, R. W., & Dick, D. M. (2009). Genetic influence on addiction. Primary Psychiatry, 16(8), 40-46.