What Makes You Alcoholic?

The most commonly held belief about alcohol consumption is that it’s physiological. Though there’s no denying that our genetic makeup puts us at a greater risk of becoming an addict, the cognitive side often loses sight.

The behavior that we exhibit on a day to day basis is loaded with various determinants and characteristics comprising of our mental processes, experiences and environment.

The way we break down information and understand it is a great influencer of the desired actions we carry out. At the same time, the social environment that we are a part of, starting from our very homes and the relationships that we maintain, again starting from our very own parents, have incomprehensible effects in the later part of our lives; in this case, leading to greater alcohol usage.

Time Perspective Theory: An Influencer Of Increased Consumption

The three main components that make up time perspectives are past (time gone by), present (occurring at this time and now) and future (what has yet to come). Where we display emphasis and view ourselves to be according to these categories is where our mind is oriented towards which in turn helps us to understand our behavior. A well balanced orientation would be one which comprises of all three categories to hold equal importance.

The Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory has been specifically designed to relate time perspective theory with various behaviors, values and attitudes related to our health, achievements and choices. Four temporal profiles were then formed namely, Future-Positive, Present, Past Negative-Future, and Ambivalent.

Future-Positives consisted of those individuals who held optimistic views about what was yet to come or occur in their lives.

These people had a high sense of ambition and were more goal oriented putting all their focus at a later time. Present oriented individuals had a more concrete approach to life and rarely thought in abstract terms by not letting their mind wander and reacting more to what is currently happening around them.

The Past Negative-Future person is unable to move on from what has previously happened with regret and guilt revolving around their experiences leading them to be frustrated and constantly re-evaluating even the good times that they might have had.

And lastly, the Ambivalent person is struggling to be somewhere in the middle where he/she is clogged with mixed emotions and is uncertain and inconsistent in his/her thoughts and actions.

Many researches have tried to study the association that exists between alcohol consumption and the time perspective theory. Smart (1968) found that ‘alcoholics had less coherent and extensive future temporal profiles than did social drinkers and patients in a drug treatment were less motivated for the future (Lavell, Hammersley & Forsyth,1991).’ Keough, K, Zimbardo & Boyd (1999) replicated this study and found out that those with a higher present temporal profile reported more substance use. Interestingly enough, according to a recent research, 455 undergraduates, aged 18-25, were investigated for their temporal profiles impacting differences in alcohol related problem.

Such young participants would reveal significant results as adolescence is a crucial time period where the individual is going through various stages of life and to investigate their development and time perspectives at this age would yield great meaningful results.

Michael McKay, 2016, proved that such a relationship exists and how the type of temporal profile linked could even differ over time. In his recent study conducted in April 2016, his findings revealed that the ‘Future-Positive profile was associated with the best alcohol-related outcomes and the Present profile was associated with the worst outcomes’.

Situational And Dispositional Factors Effecting Alcohol Usage

The reasons that enable us to develop a drinking pattern are tenfold. However, the factors that we could attribute to the onset of developing it could be based on two dimensions: situational or dispositional. Situational factors are those which are external in nature and can be appointed to the environment that we are surrounded by whereas dispositional factors are those that are internal and could be linked with characteristics that an individual is comprised of. The biggest situational factor in the case of alcohol consumption is social influence.

This would include the people we are surrounded by, particularly in young adolescents as they are at a more vulnerable age to get influenced and adopt certain behaviors without adequate knowledge.

A study done to examine social network effects in alcohol consumption among adolescents reveals that ‘peer effects are important determinants of drinking behavior even after controlling for potential biases.’ (Dwyer, D&Ali, M (2010). The influence that close friends have speaks a great deal and there is numerous literature available to support it.

Another very important factor is when the individual started drinking. Studies suggest that early drinking leads to alcohol dependence later in life. (Meyers, 2008). This could be due to various factors both genetic and social.

Trait and state is also a way to understand our behavior patterns. By ‘state’ we are referring to as something that fluctuates or could change over a period of time whereas ‘trait’ would remain the same and is more consistent.

Variability in alcohol consumption was studied by Nealis et al and it was found that ‘alcohol use becomes more stable over time, particularly for alcohol quantity.’ No gender differences were found for an increase in trait like stability over development.

What Makes You Alcoholic? What Your Brain Is Trying To Tell You

Many a time our brain is trying to play games with us and we being the fools that we are, get fooled. Mindfulness is one state where we can fool our brain and get even. By being in a state of active observation and being aware and conscious of our thoughts and feelings without any judgments, we allow ourselves to be free.

This link between thinking and doing was first explored a hundred years ago by James (1890) in his book titled ‘The Principles of Psychology’ where he shared the idea of goal directed physical movement being as a precursor to a mental representation of it. To experience this freedom though, we need to also befriend high level action identification. Action identification theory mainly suggests that the action that we are performing can be given an identity ranging from high level to lower level.

High level identification suggests that the person is sensitive to the cues around him regarding a particular action whereas lower level identification is a more breakdown approach to identify with that action. A wide number of studies have been carried out proposing the importance of self-control through the way an individual mentally represents their actions.

A very useful research conducted in May 2016 by Schellhas, Brian & Jong suggests that there is in fact a relationship between mindfulness and control of alcohol use. Those who were more mindful reported a higher level of control over alcohol but a less high level of action identification.

Harboring Impulses Leading To Increased Risk

We’ve often heard about impulsivity, we see it around us and are guilty of it too. The sudden brash need to act upon our emotions as quickly as time allows us or a tendency to act without a care in the world, not stopping to think of the consequences that could stem as a result of our actions comes from a strong sense of urgency.

This urgency can be both positive as well as negative but not in the typical way that we view these two terms. To put it simply, positive urgency is associated with positive emotions and negative urgency is associated with negative emotions.

The need to prolong a positive feeling when you are experiencing one is what positive urgency is all about whereas the need to escape the negative emotions as soon as they occur with an impulsive drive is negative urgency.

Alcohol consumption has had a notable, strong correlation with impulsivity. A meta-analytical study investigating the multidimensionality in impulsivity and alcohol use revealed that ‘impulsivity and alcohol use are related and drinking problems were most highly related to negative urgency, and alcohol dependence was most highly related to positive urgency’ (Cyders, M (2013). Further exploration in this issue has given us even newer insight into the effects of childhood maltreatment and current alcohol and cannabis problems.

Wardell, Strang & Henders studied the associations between history of childhood maltreatment and whether current alcohol and cannabis problems were mediated by negative urgency. Results were in favor of negative urgency being a mediator of the association between childhood maltreatment and alcohol and cannabis problems.

Another study done by D. S. Hasin et al (2013) investigating factors that increase risk for alcohol dependence also how ‘childhood maltreatment independently increased the risk of alcohol dependence’. Thus it is highly important to understand the significance of early identification in order to prevent such behaviors from occurring in the future.

All the work that is being done and the shift towards examining personality traits, social psychological and cognitive behavioral theories and our childhood experiences are important factors contributing to the use of alcohol consumption and understanding how they play a role in increasing the risk for alcohol dependence, which are often ignored and overlooked.

Our upbringing, childhood experiences and the environment impacts our future behavior to such an extent that it is highly crucial to pay extra attention to it. Parents need to be more aware of the social and developmental influences that their child is likely to go through and keep an eye on whom it is that their child is befriending. Peer influences since centuries have always impacted the way we live our lives and for a child who is at a vulnerable stage exposed to the world at large, it is the parent’s duty to be aware and build a healthy relationship with their child as the environment that they provide at home impacts the child.

Families are the first educational influence that exists in the child’s life. That is their starting point and is thus bound to hold great significance for the rest of their lives. If it is unhealthy, it can prove to be a hindrance to their growing development. We need to nurture the inside world of the child rather than destroying it which is more often than not what happens when there is lack of awareness and knowledge. The moral and ethical code that we all carry is constantly changing and developing and is ignored. A revival of how far values can go in making a difference would be a great step towards achieving this.

We also need to be mindful of our actions and be able to identify our own thoughts and social skills as they all count in our development and courses of actions we take. To be able to form an association between our thoughts and actions and have a clearer sense of what exactly we are doing and by constantly educating and updating ourselves, we would be in a better position to practice responsible decision making.

By being conscious of the moments that we now experience fleetingly, just by paying a little attention we can live a much healthier life and also help others around us in doing the same.

There are still, however, tremendous avenues that need to be explored further, both psychological and physiological so that we can better understand the onset of this particular disorder and be able to combat it for future generations as it continues to be a great problem all over the world.


1 Comment
  1. Morbid Serenade says

    The behavior that we exhibit on a day to day basis is loaded with various determinants and characteristics comprising of our mental processes, experiences and environment.

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