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Risk Factors for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

A risk factor is anything that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop AUD with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing AUD. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

AUD is highest among young adults aged 18-35 years, but AUD can occur at any point in during a lifetime.

The most common risk factors for AUD include:


AUD is far more common in men than in women. However, the incidence of dependence in women has been on the rise in the past several years. Women tend to have problems later in life than men, but the condition has a faster progression in women.


Many studies link genetic factors to AUD. This includes how the body processes and responds to alcohol. Genetics can also make you prone to dependence, but for most people, it is only one piece of a larger puzzle.

Family History

AUD tends to run in families. Rates of problem drinking are higher among men with one or more affected parent than among men without affected parents. Though these links are present with women, it is not as strong as with men. Having these associations does not guarantee that AUD will be present in all family members, if at all.

Culture and Ethnicity

Cultural, ethnic and social norms influence alcohol use. Traditions also play a part in how alcohol is used. This may result in patterns of problem drinking that exist in some cultures more than others. For example, dependency rates are higher in Europe and the United States where alcohol consumption is common and socially acceptable. In American culture, alcohol is often used as a social lubricant and a means of reducing tension. Binge drinking is becoming more popular resulting in more social problems. In contrast, certain religious groups who abstain from drinking alcohol have minimal dependency rates.

Higher rates of AUD are also related to peer pressure and easy access to alcohol.

Personality and Mental Health Factors

Certain personality traits may increase risk for AUD. These may include high self-expectations, low frustration tolerance, feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty in one's roles, needing an inordinate amount of praise and reassurance, and having a tendency to be impulsive and aggressive.

AUD is also associated with many mental health disorders and addictions:

Revision Information

  • Alcohol use disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated February 25, 2015. Accessed April 9, 2015.

  • American Psychiatric Association. Desk Reference to the Diagnostic Criteria from DSM-5. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2013.

  • Binge drinking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated October 10, 2013. Accessed April 9, 2015.

  • Genetics of alcohol use disorder. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Available at: Accessed April 9, 2015.

  • Module 10H: Ethnicity, culture, and alcohol. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcholism website. Available at: Accessed April 9, 2015.

  • Understanding alcohol use disorders and their treatment. American Psychological Association website. Available at: Updated March 2012. Accessed April 9, 2015.