Is alcohol the only cause of alcoholism?

Many people have tried to establish how much alcohol is needed to be drunk to become alcoholic. A new research study from Denmark compared drinkers over 25 years and the amount of alcohol consumed.

Their conclusions were;

  • Women are at risk of developing alcoholism if they have 7 or more drinks per week.
  • Men are at risk if they consume more than 22 alcoholic drinks per week.
  • Both genders were at greater risk if they also smoke cigarettes.

This study may support the known physiological adaptation of brain cells to alcohol. Basically, brain cells develop more receptors as more alcohol is consumed. Eventually a craving develops to supply more alcohol to fill these receptors.

Problems with this classification.

One of the problems with this analysis is that it does not take into account the inherited aspects of alcoholism. For example sons of alcoholics are four times more likely to become alcoholic through their genetic links. These sons of alcoholics also need to drink less alcohol to have the same effect.

Thus, sons of alcoholics develop alcoholism more readily and probably with less alcohol.

Another of the problems is that some people have a metabolism that processes alcohol differently. For example, some people of Asian decent have a violent digestive reaction to alcohol.

A third problem is that the analysis is based on an overall population of some 20,000 people without examining their physiology, family history, upbringing or current environment. All of these are known to potentially contribute to the development of alcoholism.

A forth problem with this type of classification is the fact that many alcoholics believe they were alcoholic right from their first drink. In other words they did not need to develop any tolerance or drink a lot to become alcoholic.

Alcoholics Anonymous defines alcoholism as not what is drunk or how much or where or when. Alcoholism is defined by the effect alcohol has on the drinker. Two questions can be posed as indicators. These are;

  • Can you always guarantee what you will do when you drink?
  • Can you always guarantee how much you will drink?

Defining alcoholism risks by how much is consumed has been shown to be dangerous and ineffective and should be discouraged.

Alcoholics Anonymous describes in detail the many attempts to control drinking by alcoholics all of which have proved disastrous and only prolongs the agony.

Here are some of the methods we have tried: Drinking beer only, limiting the number of drinks, never drinking alone, never drinking in the morning, drinking only at home, never having it in the house, never drinking during business hours, drinking only at parties, switching from scotch to brandy, drinking only natural wines, agreeing to resign if ever drunk on the job, taking a trip, not taking a trip, swearing off forever (with and without a solemn oath), taking more physical exercise, reading inspirational books, going to health farms and sanitariums, accepting voluntary commitment to asylums – we could increase the list ad infinitum. Alcoholics Anonymous, pp 31.

To be gravely affected, one does not necessarily have to drink a long time nor take the quantities some of us have. This is particularly true of women. Potential female alcoholics often turn into the real thing and are gone beyond recall in a few years. aa pp 33

No, alcoholism cannot be defined by the amount consumed. It can only indicate a potential problem.

Reference; Flensborg-Madsen T, Knop J, Mortensen EL, Becker U, Gronbaek M. Amount of alcohol consumption and risk of developing alcoholism in men and women. Alcohol Alcohol. 2007 May 9;

Related Reading:

The Man with the Blue Hat
12 Smart Things to Do When the Booze and Drugs Are Gone: Choosing Emotional Sobriety through Self-Awareness and Right Action
Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book Workbook: Working the Program