Although by legal standards the minimum age for drinking has been prescribed as 21 but many young people in the United States consume alcohol. The so called ‘social or binge’ drinking gradually turns into alcohol abuse.
The progression of drinking from use to abuse to dependence is associated with biological and psychosocial factors.
Alcohol abuse is largely signified by symptoms of craving to drink, not being able to control the extent of drinking, physical dependence on alcohol and developing a tolerance to greater amounts of alcohol. Alcohol abuse is a subset of alcoholism, which can be characterized as a disease. Alcoholism is a chronic problem that pushes the individual to a state wherein he or she continues to drink despite family, health or legal issues.
The risk of developing alcohol abuse is influenced by a person’s genes and lifestyle. Research reveals that genetic factors influence an individual's vulnerability to alcoholism. There is a higher possibility of the children of alcoholics to initiate drinking during adolescence and develop alcoholism in comparison to children of non-alcoholics. However, the relative influences of environment and genetics have not been determined and vary amongst people. The drinking behavior of parents plays a vital role in being driven towards alcohol abuse. Early initiation of drinking due to family circumstances has been identified as an important risk factor for later alcohol related problems. During the adolescent years, children need support and guidance of parents to motivate them towards positive goals in life. This can only be achieved by means of clear communication and closeness between the two parties. Lack of parental support, monitoring and communication has been significantly related to frequency of drinking, heavy drinking and drunkenness among adolescents. Also harshness, inconsistent discipline and hostility or rejection toward children lead to adolescent drinking and alcohol related problems. On the contrary, studies verify that children who share a close bonding with their parents and are warned about the negative implications of alcohol by their parents at the right time were lesser prone to alcohol abuse. Also, children subjected to trauma of physical abuse, sexual abuse, violent victimization and witnessing violence within or outside their families show higher incidence of alcohol abuse.
Apart from family there are several other risk factors associated to alcohol abuse. Childhood antisocial behavior is associated with alcohol related problems in adolescence and alcohol abuse or dependence in adulthood. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children also has a relationship with alcohol abuse. Anxiety and depression are largely connected with alcohol abuse. However, the issue whether these are causes or consequences of alcohol abuse lies unresolved. Peer pressure is another very significant influencing factor. Surprisingly, alcohol advertising may also influence adolescents to be more favorably predisposed to drinking.
Although, research shows that the risk for developing alcoholism does indeed run in families but one needs to remember than risk is not destiny. It is not mandatory that a child exposed to alcoholism in the family will automatically become an alcoholic too. In fact, there are cases of children developing alcoholism, even though there was no precedence of the same in their families. No one can refute the influence of the family atmosphere in the upbringing of a child. However, many external factors also add their bit in the building of a child’s personality. An optimistic viewpoint would be that knowing you are at risk can in fact lessen the chances of abuse as one can take appropriate steps to protect yourself from developing problems with alcohol.
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