The Psychology of Alcoholism

The definition of alcoholism can vary depending on if you are viewing it from a medical or treatment viewpoint. The general definition for alcoholism is when an individual has a compulsion to consume alcohol without regard for any consequences. In medical terminology, alcoholism is a chronic disease that is characterized by a person’s preoccupation with alcohol and their inability to control their alcohol consumption. In medical terms, an alcoholic will experience a change in their cognitive thinking and disregard any possible consequences for their behavior.

Alcoholism is a serious problem with no clear cut single explanation as to why some people become alcoholics. There are genetic factors, psychological factors and social factors that can contribute to a person’s alcoholism. It is important to remember that not all alcohol consumption necessarily equals alcoholism. In order to suffer from alcoholism, one must consume alcohol however the frequency, degree, quantity, and regularity are what can change alcohol consumption into alcoholism.

Genetic Factors:

An individual’s family history can play a big part in their alcohol consumption. If the family has a history of alcoholism, then an individual may have a predisposition towards chronic alcohol consumption. There is a risk factor for those who are genetically related to alcoholics.

It is possible for an individual to have a genetic test done to determine their predisposition towards alcoholism. This test can isolate an allele that is related to alcoholism. While this allele cannot predict who will become an alcoholic, those individuals who posses this allele may have a more genetic tendency towards addiction in general, including an addiction to alcohol.

Psychological Factors:

Most behavior is learned, including addictive behavior. Understanding how an individual learned a negative behavior can help figure out how to get that individual to unlearn the unhealthy behavior. An individual may have also learned in their lifetime that their consumption of alcohol is a rewarded behavior which would explain their continued use of the substance. The feeling they receive from the alcohol itself may even be the reward for the individual. Through either an internal or external environment, an individual may find that they crave alcohol especially when experiencing the symptoms of withdraw.

In addition to learned behavior, personality traits as well as emotional and cognitive factors can influence an individual’s decision to consume alcohol. Research has shown that individuals with certain personality traits could be predisposed to becoming alcoholics in their lifetime. Those who are anti-social or have a neurological issue could be at-risk for alcoholism. Some of the neurological issues at-risk are:

  • impulsiveness
  • aggressiveness
  • psychopathic tendencies
  • childhood hyperactivity
  • lack of inhibition
  • emotional instability

Social Factors:

In many social settings, it is normal behavior for people to gather together to consume alcohol. Alcohol consumption is related to an elevated mood and feelings of stress reduction. Consuming alcohol with others in a social situation could lead to social rewards, while avoiding it can lead to social rejection. Many individuals want to comply with the normal social standards in their culture to avoid any rejection of their peers.

In younger individuals, many have preconceived expectations as to what will happen when they drink alcohol. These expectations can lead to their decision to consume alcohol. A study has found that many teens find that it is easier to socialize with their peers when alcohol is involved. Studies have found that these same teens who believe it easier to socialize with alcohol have an increased rate of alcohol consumption compared to their peers without that same belief.

Psychological Treatment for Alcoholism:

Alcoholism is a serious substance abuse problem that one can seek treatment for however the individual must be willing to accept the help in order to be successful during treatment. If an individual goes into treatment thinking that their recovery is impossible, then it is more likely that they will not put forth the effort into their recovery. In many treatment centers, it is required for an addict to work with a psychologist. In working with a psychologist, they may be able to change the negative thoughts they have and their behavior will change by default.

Some individuals turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism which can ultimately lead to their alcoholism. Seeking out a psychotherapist to help in treatment of alcoholism can lead to the individual learning better coping skills and how to deal with their stress in a healthier way.


The brain is the most complex organ in your body and is heavily affected by the use of alcohol. Proper function of the brain is needed for survival however alcohol will affect the brain’s chemistry. However, it is possible to receive help for alcoholism. Cognitive or psychological therapy and detoxification programs are the most widely used forms of treatment for alcoholism. Risk factors such as family genetics, psychological influences, and social factors can contribute to an individual’s alcoholism. Researchers are working to isolate those risk factors in order to recognize a person who is at-risk for alcoholism. By recognizing these factors before hand, preventive measures may be able to be developed to target and treat the risk factors before the individual has a chance to become an alcoholic.