The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that alcoholism is a disease that includes four symptoms: craving, loss of control, physical dependence, and a high tolerance to alcohol's effects. Alcoholism is a chronic disease, meaning its effects are long lasting and cannot be simply cured like other diseases. Though there is no direct and definitive cause, recent research has identified certain factors that contribute to alcoholism.
The NIAAA reports that certain genes may play a role in causing a person to become an alcoholic. Genes are passed down from parent to child. Much the same way other diseases have a genetic component, alcoholism also seems to follow this pattern. If a father, uncle or grandmother, for example, is an alcoholic, there is a much greater chance that the person himself will become alcoholic. However, there is no evidence that having one type of gene causes alcoholism. Furthermore, if a person has a family member with alcoholism, it does not mean that that person will definitely become an alcoholic. The NIAAA reports that even though having a family member with alcoholism increases a person's risk of becoming an alcoholic himself, "risk is not destiny."
There are several social factors that may predispose a person to develop alcoholism, according to The Mayo Clinic. The media often projects an image of drinking in excess as having little or no consequences. Furthermore, heavy drinking of alcohol may be more prevalent among certain groups of people. For example, college students are a group of people who have higher than normal alcohol use. A task force created by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism published information on college drinking. College students were significantly more likely to engage in binge drinking than their non-college peers. Alcohol abuse long term is also another risk factor for developing alcoholism.
According to the Mayo Clinic, certain psychological factors may contribute to the development of alcoholism. These factors include: high stress and/or anxiety levels, emotional pain, low self-esteem and depression. Drinking under these circumstances is often called "self-medicating," because the person is abusing alcohol to "treat" one or more emotional and/or psychological problems. Having these psychological issues makes a person more likely to become an alcoholic, but does not necessarily mean that the person is definitely going to become an alcoholic.