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Is Alcoholism Hereditary

Your husband has always been a drinker. His father and grandfather always found themselves drinking no matter the occasion. You have seen the mental and physical toll alcohol has taken on all of these family members, and you can’t help but look at your 13-year-old son and wonder – “Will he pick up drinking? Is alcoholism hereditary?”

is alcoholism hereditary

In 2022, over 13% of high school students reported drinking in the past 30 days in Hillsborough County. Clean Recovery Centers understands how drinking early on can turn into an alcohol use disorder, often before the teen realizes it. Our program addresses past traumas that may be driving alcohol use and provides the tools needed to cope in healthy ways. So, is alcoholism hereditary? Are there certain genes linked to alcohol use disorder?

Alcoholism and Genetics – Is There a Correlation?

Genes make up our DNA, deciding our hair color, our eye color, how our thumbs lay when our hands are folded, if we can roll our tongues, and many other physical traits. These traits are hereditary, passed down from our parents, grandparents, and so on. This is why, even if two parents both have brown eyes, a child could still end up with blue eyes because of a distant relative.

Genetic variations also have effects on behaviors. Inherited genetic predispositions can cause differences in intellectual levels, personality traits, and the development of mental health conditions including substance use disorders. Does this mean that genes specifically cause alcoholism? In short, no, but they are a factor. However, there are many other factors that play into how alcohol use disorders develop.

The “Alcoholic Gene”

A common misconception is that there is a specific “alcoholic gene,” guaranteeing the development of an alcohol use disorder (AUD) at some point in life. While there is always research going on with genetics and how substance use disorders come to be, there has not been a singular gene discovered behind any substance use disorder. In the case of alcohol use disorders, the genes that metabolize alcohol are a possible link. These genes are the ADH1B and ALDH2 and they are essential in the process of breaking down alcohol. Those of Eastern Asian descent have a mutation in the ALDH2 gene, causing alcohol intolerance. Their bodies cannot process alcohol the same way as those with an unmutated ALDH2 gene, further drawing a possible connection to alcohol use disorder.

Does Genetics Play a Role in Alcohol Tolerance?

Alcohol tolerance refers to having to drink more to feel the same effects. Where one or two standard drinks (12oz of beer, 2oz of liquor, or 5oz of wine) may cause one person to feel buzzed, someone who is developing an alcohol tolerance may take 4 or 5 drinks before they feel the effects. Tolerance is usually influenced by environmental and psychological factors. If the person surrounds themselves with people who drink heavily often, their tolerance is likely to increase quicker. The same can be said about someone drinking most days to manage a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety.

Genetic factors can affect the risks of developing alcohol tolerance as well as alcohol-related conditions and developing an alcohol use disorder. Studies have been conducted on mice and rats that have suggested there are genetic components that can affect alcohol dependence and withdrawal sensitivity, but these were found to be only risk factors, not absolutes.

How Genetics and Environment Effect Hereditary Alcoholism

While genetics are a component and create risk factors for developing an alcohol use disorder, environment plays the largest role in “hereditary alcoholism.” While alcohol use disorder is not in itself a hereditary trait, if you have immediate family members with AUDs, there is a stronger likelihood of you developing one yourself. This combination of seen and learned behaviors, as well as other factors, can affect the outcome as well.

Environment vs DNA

exploring the genetic link to alcoholismWhen we think of DNA, it is engrained and cannot be changed or takes practice to change. For example, you can color your hair but it will grow back in the color that is in your genetic code. You can wear colored contacts but your eyes will always be the color your genes decided. In terms of behaviors, genes can influence them but there is more wiggle room for change than attempting to change a physical trait. Having genetic risk factors for developing an alcohol use disorder can be changed through behaviors, and by working at these changes, the person may never experience an AUD.

Environmental factors are situations that happen around us and influence behaviors. These can be mundane and unnoticed – something simple like your mom always using a certain brand of baking soda and now as an adult, you find yourself always buying that brand. However, the same can be said about a child experiencing abuse or being in an environment where their parents are always drinking alcohol. Even though the child cannot drink, seeing these behaviors constantly can result in turning to alcohol later in life. The connotation behind it can be positive and negative – the child begins drinking as a way to bond with their parents or they drink to cope with trauma from the past.

Environmental Factors That Can Lead To Hereditary Alcoholism

Environmental factors can affect the development of an alcohol use disorder at any stage in life, they are not limited to childhood. Common environmental factors include:

  • Being exposed to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) including abuse, neglect, witnessing violence, losing family or friends to suicide, and instability due to substance use or jail time
  • Living with family members who have an alcohol use disorder
  • Beginning drinking at an early age
  • Being surrounded by friends who engage in heavy drinking
  • History of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions

As with genetics, experiencing any of these environmental factors does not guarantee the person is going to develop an alcohol use disorder. However, without proper treatment of past trauma and addressing environmental influences, the risk increases.

Tips for Reducing Alcoholism Risks

The best way to reduce the risk of developing alcoholism is to understand yourself and your environment. For example, if you know you are genetically predisposed to engaging in risky behaviors, finding healthy outlets for these behaviors and creating positive change can help reduce the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. If you find yourself drinking more with a certain group of people or in certain situations, take a step back and identify what is triggering the increase in drinking. Lastly, accepting that your genes alone did not cause you to develop your drinking habits will aid in seeking help for an alcohol use disorder should one arise.

Getting Help for Alcoholism in Hillsborough County, FL

Maybe you have genetic factors, environmental factors, or both that led you to an alcohol use disorder. The good news is that treatment is available and can help with all of the above. Alcoholism treatment is the first step to addressing the root causes of alcohol use. After alcohol detox, extensive therapies, coping skill development, and skill-building classes will give you the tools you need to leave alcohol behind and rediscover your passions. Healing from the past may seem scary, but lifting the burden off of your shoulders will be the most freeing and rewarding experience you can fathom. Life in recovery is just the beginning of a bright future.

If you or someone you love is managing an alcohol use disorder, help is available here and now. Clean Recovery Centers utilizes a unique, three-phase approach to treatment that addresses all facets of addiction: spiritual, mental, physical, and social. Our dedicated team can diagnose and treat any mental health condition no matter the stage of treatment you are in. Call us today at (888) 330-2532 to learn more about our program offerings.

Get clean. Live clean. Stay clean.


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