Nobody knows when humans first discovered the effects of fermented products – the “buzz” that comes from consuming alcohol – but we do know that we have drunk alcohol for thousands of years, just as we have used other mind-altering substances to change our experiences. In our modern society, why do some individuals choose to drink while others do not?
A study on a motivational model of alcohol use (Klinger/Cox) described the expectation that drinking will change how we feel. The study revealed there are several specific motivations to use alcohol.
Social: The Friday night gathering after work, the cocktail party. Friends gather to loosen up and play, with drinking as the fuel or the focal point. The non-drinker is often questioned about his or her choice to not consume alcohol.
Conformity with others: Wanting to feel included, especially if young. A non-drinker may be shamed into drinking, feeling like a social pariah if he or she refuses.
Enhancement: Feeling free of worry and care. A drink or two usually makes the drinker feel light and giddy.
Coping: To numb painful feelings in a difficult situation. Drinking to avoid emotion creates its own set of problems.
Those who, after a first experience drinking, have a pleasurable reaction are more likely to drink again, while those who have a negative reaction (like flushing or illness) are, of course, less likely to repeat the experience, however social pressures also contribute to the likelihood of future drinking.
Recent studies indicate there may be a genetic component to those with a tendency toward heavy drinking. A gene which interacts with liver enzymes that govern sugar processing is absent in those who are most likely to abuse alcohol.
When alcohol consumption moves past enjoying the occasional social beverage and leads to unpleasant consequences, such as dependency, physical harm, and damage to relationships, then it may be time to pursue some form of treatment.