Recovery Center Blog

Is Alcoholism Genetic?

Written By Recovery Centers - June 10th, 2022
Is Alcoholism Genetic?

If mental health conditions like anxiety and mood disorders are genetic, what about alcoholism? If you have family members who struggle with alcohol abuse and addiction, you may be wondering if they passed it down to you.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there is a 50% chance of being predisposed to alcoholism if it runs in your family.[1] However, it is important to note that the true cause of alcoholism is largely unknown. Rather than one thing causing the development of alcohol use disorder, it is believed that a combination of genetic, environmental, and social factors play a role.

Keeping this in mind, it is still important for you to consider genetic predispositions to alcoholism that may run in your family.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is the most severe form of alcohol abuse. This condition is also referred to as alcohol use disorder (AUD). If you struggle with an AUD, you may find that you cannot seem to control how much you drink or for how long.

When alcoholism is left untreated, it can cause your life to spiral out of control. Oftentimes, this will cause you to want to quit drinking, however, the cravings and withdrawal symptoms you experience when you cut down may lead you to continue the cycle of addiction.

The symptoms of alcohol use disorder include:

  • Being unable to control alcohol consumption
  • Craving alcohol when you cannot drink
  • Placing alcohol use above important responsibilities
  • Feeling the need to continually drink more
  • Spending a substantial amount of money on alcohol
  • Spending a lot of time using and recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Behaving differently after drinking
  • Building a tolerance to alcohol
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you do not drink alcohol

The more symptoms you identify with, the more severe your AUD is.

Is Alcoholism Hereditary?

While your parents’ alcoholism can play a role in the development of yours, it is a bit more complex than that. Alcoholism is not inherently hereditary. In other words, your genes are only responsible for half of your chances of developing alcoholism.[2]

While genes alone do not cause alcohol use disorder, a combination of inherited genetic and environmental factors can lead to the development of alcoholism. For example, if you are genetically predisposed to alcoholism and you grew up watching your family members abuse alcohol as a coping mechanism, you may become an alcoholic as well.

Additionally, there are other genes that can contribute to your risk of becoming an alcoholic. According to the National Library of Medicine, “Some of these genes have been identified, including two genes of alcohol metabolism, ADH1B and ALDH2, that have the strongest known effects on risk for alcoholism.”[3]

In summary, alcoholism can be inherited, but it is not solely genetic.

What are the Causes of Alcoholism?

There is no specific cause of alcoholism, however, a combination of factors puts you at a higher risk of developing the disease. Genetic, environmental, health, social, financial and psychological factors all play a role in the development of this condition. Additionally, your relationship with alcohol is one of the biggest contributors to the development of alcohol use disorder.

Many people believe that experiencing trauma and hardships without proper coping mechanisms is the leading cause of alcoholism or any other type of addiction. The known risk factors for developing alcoholism include:

  • Consuming more than 12 drinks per week for women and 15 drinks per week for men
  • Binge drinking
  • Having a biological family member with alcoholism or drug addiction
  • Having a mental health condition
  • Experiencing peer pressure to drink
  • Having low self-esteem and low self-worth
  • Experiencing high levels of stress
  • Being a part of a family or culture where alcohol use is accepted or encouraged

How to Avoid Becoming an Alcoholic When it Runs in the Family

Having a genetic predisposition to alcoholism can be scary. You may be worried about even consuming one drink, out of fear of developing an alcohol use disorder. While you should be careful about your alcohol intake, having a drink here and there will not cause you to develop alcoholism.

If you are worried about becoming an alcoholic because of genetic predispositions, consider these tips:

  • Do not drink to cope with uncomfortable feelings or emotions
  • Consider only drinking one or two drinks at a time
  • Develop proper coping mechanisms to prevent yourself from self-medicating
  • Disclose your family history with a close friend or partner
  • Consider attending support groups for the loved ones of alcoholics (Al-Anon)

It is important to remember that having a family member with alcoholism does not necessarily mean you will become one. However, it does mean you have a higher risk of developing this condition than others. With that being said, staying vigilant and keeping a positive relationship with alcohol will prevent you from developing alcohol use disorder.

Finding Help for Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol abuse or alcoholism, it’s time to seek professional help. Alcohol rehab can help provide you with the tools you need to gain and maintain long-term sobriety.

Contact Recovery Centers today to get in touch with an alcohol rehab center near you.

References:

  1. https://nida.nih.gov/download/20362/genetics-epigenetics-addiction-drugfacts.pdf?v=f89d113075087b54d6f5b43ee503ca0c.
  2. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-use-disorder/genetics-alcohol-use-disorder
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4056340/