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Is Alcoholism Genetic or Hereditary?

Is alcoholism genetic? Learn about the components of alcoholism, how it’s a disease, and treatment options.

Alcoholism Genetic

Article Contents

Understanding the Genetics Behind Alcoholism

What is alcoholism? How do the roles of genetics impact the development of alcoholism throughout one’s life? What are some essential steps that can help prevent alcoholism later in life? These are all key questions to ask when approaching alcohol consumptions, and each question will be detailed and explained throughout this informative piece.

Are Genetics a Risk Factor Attributed to Alcoholism?

Like with any mental health disorder or substance use disorder, while it may not be the only factor, genetics play a large role in the development of alcoholism. However, it can be complicated to understand genetics and alcoholism.

It is important to know and understand risk factors of alcohol dependency in order to best ensure a safe, healthy relationship to alcohol is demonstrated.

Is Alcoholism Genetic?

While alcoholism isn’t purely genetic, there is a strong indication that genetics play a role, which is an estimated 50% contribution. 1 

So far, scientists have been able to identify several genes that may contribute to an increased risk for alcoholism. These genes and how they play a role as risk factors will be detailed throughout this article.2 

Alcoholism: An Inherited Trait

Why Is Alcoholism Hereditary?

Alcoholism can be hereditary because certain genes, traits, and dispositions can be passed from parent to child. Since 50% of the source of alcoholism is from genetics, if close family members are affected by alcohol use disorder, it is possible to pass along those genes to other generations.

Do Genetics Mean That Alcoholism is Guaranteed to Develop?

Since many factors influence alcoholism and its development, just because alcoholism is hereditary does not mean that it is guaranteed for children to develop the disorder at all. When it comes to genes and biology, when a trait is hereditary, it simply means that there is a chance for it to be passed from parent to child.

Genetics and Alcohol Addiction

This is the same as with eye color – if one parent has blue eyes, there is a chance for that trait to be passed on to the child, but it is not guaranteed. The fact that alcoholism is hereditary is only a factor in its development, not definite.

Additionally, if a person is aware that they are genetically predisposed to alcohol addiction, that knowledge can help them to approach alcohol consumption cautiously.

Is Alcohol Tolerance Influenced by Genetic Markers?

It is also important to note that while genes influence alcoholism, alcohol tolerance is not impacted by this. Instead, alcohol tolerance depends on the individual, and it can be altered by consuming large amounts of alcohol often.

Alcohol tolerance can play a role in the development of alcoholism, however, as larger amounts of alcohol can lead to dependency.
Alcoholism Genetic

Genetics and Alcohol

Genetics can impact more than just how common the development of alcoholism may be for individuals. It can also impact other aspects of alcohol use.
For instance, genetics are suspected to play a role in the effectiveness of certain alcohol use disorder treatments. And while genetics may not impact alcohol tolerance itself, they can influence the factors that dictate tolerance, such as weight.

Will I Become an Alcoholic If My Parents Are?

Genetics can be a complex topic, especially when discussing how genes are transferred from parents to children. However, because alcoholism is hereditary, there is an increased chance of alcoholism developing if close family members are. If one or both of your parents have genes related to alcoholism, there is a possibility they could pass the gene to you. It is important to note the increased risk of alcoholism when approaching a healthy relationship with alcohol.

Alcoholism may also be caused by environmental factors, including parental attitudes towards alcohol.

Alcoholism is Not a Fated Experience

However, not everyone with parents with alcoholism will develop the disorder as well. Genetics and the hereditary nature of alcoholism are only a part of the equation, and things like environmental factors, mental health, and similar factors can play a role in alcohol use disorders and alcoholism’s development.

Alcohol and Genetics Statistics

Children who grow up with parents with alcoholism are up to four times more likely to develop the disorder themselves as they get older. 3 

This is because of the genetic component of alcoholism and the environmental component, both of which will be discussed in greater detail below.

The Genetics of Addiction

Alcoholism's Genetic Component

As mentioned above, an estimated 50% of the risk for alcoholism can be linked to genetics. While this includes specific genes linked to alcoholism, it also has other genetic components, such as physical traits and genetic sensitivities to alcohol.

Genetic Sensitivities to Alcohol

Genetics do not impact all aspects of alcohol use, such as tolerance to the substance. However, genetics can impact other factors, such as sensitivities.

To break down alcohol, the body relies on metabolism and certain enzymes. However, genetics have made it so that some people have fewer of the needed enzymes. This creates a sensitivity to alcohol that alters how it impacts the body.

Risk Factors of Alcohol Use

While alcohol use is normalized and common today, some risk factors could indicate a higher risk of developing alcoholism or alcohol use disorder. These risk factors will be detailed below:

  • Aggressive behavior in childhood
  • Lack of parental supervision
  • Poor social skills
  • Alcohol and drug experimentation
  • Poverty

Environmental Factors for Alcohol Use

Environmental factors can also dictate how a person uses alcohol and whether there is an elevated risk for the development of an alcohol use disorder. Many of these factors are more present in childhood, such as growing up around alcohol and the normalization of problematic behaviors revolving around alcohol.

When such environmental factors occur, or when close alcoholics are enabled and even encouraged, it can establish an unhealthy relationship and perspective of alcohol use.

Why Do Genetics Influence the Likelihood of Alcoholism?

Certain genes make alcoholism more likely, although the genes themselves do not cause alcoholism. Genes can still affect certain characteristics associated with alcohol use. This includes gender, race, and weight, which can alter how alcohol works in the body.
Alcoholism Genetic

Tips to Avoid Alcoholism When It Runs in the Family

Alcoholism Genetic
While alcoholism can be genetic, it doesn’t mean that anyone who drinks alcohol with a family history will develop an alcohol use disorder. However, if you or a loved one are becoming worried about alcoholism due to family factors, these tips will help to establish a healthy foundation that aids in reducing the likelihood of alcoholism developing.

Sharing Family History and Risk Factors

One of the first tips to avoid alcoholism when it runs in your family is to understand your exact family history. While you may have heard from word of mouth that a distant relative had an alcohol use disorder, that can mean various things.

Communication of Risk Factors is Vital

Take time to research the form of alcohol use disorder, such as whether it was binge drinking or alcoholism, and the impacts on the individual. It can also be beneficial to better learn more about possible causes of alcoholism for that individual. Because alcoholism is only partly genetic, a single person with an alcohol use disorder in your family may not be a cause of concern for you or other family members. However, if there is a notable trend of addiction, it is beneficial to understand this.

Once you have done your research, you can then share this information with your family to help them better understand the chance of alcoholism developing and the risk associated with this condition.

Keep Track of How Your Children Spend Their Time

As your child gets older, it’s important to establish boundaries for privacy and free time. However, it is still important to keep an eye on how they spend their time when keeping them safe. Because there are many risk factors for alcoholism that present in childhood, such as combative behaviors, developing a strong, healthy relationship with your child is important.

This can also help in increasing the success of other tips, which rely on your child’s ability to express their needs and feelings with comfort and confidence.

Setting Family Rules

In many societies, alcohol use is normalized. However, if alcoholism runs in your family, you may find it best to abstain from alcohol use as a whole.

What Rules Best Fit Your Family?

Take time to sit down with your family and establish the rules that best fit your home. For some, these rules may include abstaining from all alcohol use, while for others, regulation may be the right choice. How you choose to make this decision can often depend on your unique family history and history of alcoholism, which is why the first step of conducting research and understanding alcoholism in your family is important.

Helping Your Child Develop Helpful Skills

For many, alcoholism begins as a method or technique of regulating stress in life. This stress can stem from many areas, from work to relationships. However, alcohol can turn into an unhealthy coping mechanism for stress or poor mental health, one that can lead to the development of risky conditions such as addiction.

Skills to Develop With Your Child

Taking the time to help your child develop interpersonal and problem-solving skills can help provide them healthy tools for success. By learning to communicate better, your child will feel more comfortable expressing their feelings and the troubles in their life. This will also aid in their life as they get older and begin to develop diverse relationships.

It is also significant in helping your child begin to develop strong emotional regulation skills. Without strong problem-solving skills, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by negative emotions and problems, which can encourage unhealthy alcohol use.

Building Your Child’s Confidence

For many, alcoholism begins during the adolescent years, especially in high-school aged children. In fact, according to several studies, many people use alcohol for the first time as a teenager.

While there are many causes of teenage alcohol use, a large number of cases can be attributed to the need to fit in with peers who are also drinking. There is also a notable lack of responsibility or understanding of the consequences of unsafe drinking.

Activities that Can Contribute to Higher Confidence During Formative Years

Each child has their own subset of needs, talents, and unique passions. Anything pertaining to those attributes may inherently build a developing youth’s confidence levels. Activities that may build an adolescent’s confidence may include (but are not limited to):
  • Team sports
  • Art
  • Music
  • Leadership building programs
  • Boy/Girl Scouts
  • Afterschool programs
  • Animal therapy
  • …etc.

Why Are These Skills Important For Your Child to Learn Early On?

As a result, one step in helping prevent the development of alcoholism when it runs in the family is to help build your child’s confidence and help them to better understand responsibility. Positive role models can be especially important in children who were raised around parents or other adults who struggle with alcohol use disorder as it provides them an alternative to environmental factors that may encourage alcohol use.

Building confidence can also help your child to feel more comfortable in their decision, even if it goes against what their friends are doing.

Alcoholism: An Overview

Alcoholism Genetic

Other Causes of Alcoholism

While alcoholism may be partially caused by genetics, it isn’t the only cause. Other factors can lead to an alcohol use disorder, which will be detailed below.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders are disorders that occur alongside alcoholism (or other disorders as well). For alcoholism, many of these disorders include anxiety and depression, where alcohol is used as a coping mechanism.

This can also include post-traumatic stress disorder or general trauma. Trauma can lead to someone starting to drink more heavily in general as well, and isn’t always classified as a co-occurring disorder, but as a sort of catalyst. For people to cope with trauma, they may turn to alcohol or drug use, for example.

Parental Attitudes Toward Alcohol

Whether too strict or too lax, a parent’s attitude towards alcohol can dictate whether there is a higher risk for alcoholism. In the case of parents being too strict, children may rebel and drink in excess. For parents who are too lax, underage drinking may occur and may be encouraged. All these factors can lead to the development of alcoholism.

These early relationships with alcohol are more pivotal in a child’s life than you may realize, so it’s important to set healthy boundaries for children and to teach them the skills we talked about above. This way, they’ll be able to realize what type of usage is safe and healthy for them as they grow older.4 

Opportunity for Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder at Iris Healing®

Alcohol use disorder and alcoholism can strain daily life, whether it is enjoying every moment or connecting with those around you. However, treatment is available.

At Iris Healing®, you’ll find some of California’s top holistic alcoholism treatments. Iris Healing® is founded on a patient-first program that addresses your unique needs from a spiritual approach to help restore balance and aid in recovery from alcoholism. We are proud to continually equip you or your loved one with the necessary tools to regain autonomy over your own life, wellness, and long lasting sobriety.

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