If you are an alcoholic, you may at one time or another, asked your higher power or even yourself, “Why Me?” Why was I chosen to suffer this affliction? Why do I have a lack of control when others can drink at will with no problem?

During most of the 19th and 20th century, alcoholism was seen as a simple lack of will power. People who drank to excess were considered weak and pathetic. Thought of as a “character defect”, alcoholism was a product of learned behavior (alcoholic parents), and poor self-discipline.

Beginning in the 1970’s, however, psychiatrists began to shift from a character and behavioral blame to a no-fault approach to alcoholism. A theory of susceptibility became to take shape, leading to a list of risk factors that make people more prone to become alcoholics. This doesn’t mean they will become alcoholics, simply that if everything falls tragically into place, they will.

Family history is the most obvious of the risk factors. Children of alcoholic parents are far more apt to become alcoholics themselves. Some scientists claim this is because of genetic tendencies. Psychiatrists believe it is because of social learning. Most knowledgeable practitioners know it to be a combination of both of these.

The age at which a person begins drinking is also a risk factor. The earlier the drinking begins, the more likely the drinker will become an alcoholic. Regular drinking before the age of 16 is a particularly significant risk factor.

If you are a man, you are more likely to become an alcoholic. However, this data is often somewhat skewed because women are less likely to recognize themselves or seek treatment for alcoholism. Therefore, the number of female alcoholics is highly unreported. Keeping in mind the social expectancies for men to drink, though, it still seems likely that men are more at risk.

One of the most misunderstood risk factors is existing psychiatric disorders. Which came first – the chicken or the egg? Is someone an alcoholic because they are depressed, or are they depressed because they are an alcoholic? Sometimes it is difficult to tell, although people exhibiting severe depression or anxiety early in life are very much at risk. Recent research has shown that adults suffering from Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD or ADHD) are also more at risk than the general population.

So, “Why me?” you ask. Maybe it is because you are a man with alcoholic parents and a tendency toward depression. Maybe it is because you were introduced to drinking at the age of 12 and never developed sufficient skills. Maybe it is because it’s in your genes. There is an abundance of reasons, but the one you must remember is that it is not necessarily because of qualities you lack.