Alcoholism seems to run in certain families. Children of alcoholic parents or grandparents often struggle with problem drinking themselves. More recent studies digging deep into the science behind this disease are trying to discover if there is a genetic predisposition for alcoholism. Some even believe a single alcoholism gene could be responsible.
The truth is more complicated. While genetics and family contribute to addiction, social and environmental factors also play a huge role. If alcoholism runs in your family, that doesn’t mean you are fated to become an alcoholic. However, it does mean you should take extra precautions as you could have a strong susceptibility toward alcoholism.
Is Alcoholism Genetic?
It’s well-known that individuals with a family history of alcoholism are at a higher risk of becoming alcoholics. A growing body of scientific evidence seems to confirm alcoholism and a genetic predisposition. This means if you have more than one close relative with an alcohol use disorder, you may have inherited genes that put you at risk.
There doesn’t seem to be one gene responsible for alcoholism. Or, if there is, the gene has yet to be identified. Instead, hundreds of genes inside your DNA can potentially amplify your risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. Experts are attempting to identify these genes, but it proves difficult. So, no one knows just how big a factor genetics plays in the development of alcoholism.
Three of the genes associated with an increased risk of developing alcoholism include:
- ADH1B: This gene is prevalent in East Asian populations, but has a low occurrence in European Caucasian groups. Variants of this gene cause a person to develop a flush reaction to alcohol which is uncomfortable and acts as a deterrent to developing alcohol use disorder. Those with a low frequency of this gene, such as European populations, have an increased risk of alcoholism.
- GABRB1: A mutation of this gene may make certain individuals more susceptible to self-medicating with alcohol, increasing their risk of alcoholism.
- Beta-Klotho: Those with this gene can control their drinking better, successfully stopping after one or two drinks. Individuals without this gene may find it difficult to control their urge to keep drinking alcohol because of genetics and alcohol tolerance.
These are only a few of the innumerable genes associated with substance abuse. There are also behavioral genes passed down that can influence a propensity toward alcohol use disorder, such as individuals with a family history of mental illness.
Experts hope that if they can trace alcoholism to one gene or a combination of genes, they could use the information to identify those at risk and create early prevention methods.
Genetics vs. Environment
Is alcoholism hereditary? Partly — heredity is only responsible for about half of one’s risk of alcoholism. Genes alone don’t determine if you will develop an alcohol use disorder. Environmental factors and your ability to handle situations that could cause alcohol dependency are just as important.
Countless environmental factors can lead to alcoholism. In these situations, your hereditary behaviors interact with your environment forming the basis of your decisions. If you are more prone to stress, this can make it harder to deal with unhealthy environmental risks, leading you to turn to alcohol to cope.
Environmental Risk Factors for Alcohol Abuse
The more risk factors present in your life, the greater your chance of developing an alcohol use disorder or another form of addiction. Some of the most common environmental risk factors which can lead to alcohol abuse include:
- Parental neglect or lack of supervision
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Witnessing violence
- Availability of alcohol
- Peer pressure
- Experimentation with alcohol
Get Help for Alcohol Addiction
While no one can control their genetic makeup, addiction is preventable. Having alcoholic family members doesn’t mean you’re going to abuse alcohol yourself. When you know you have a genetic predisposition, it’s important to understand the symptoms of addiction. If you find you are exhibiting signs of alcoholism, seek treatment as soon as possible.
At Gateway, our rehabilitation center offers individualized care and counseling to get you on the road to recovery. We can help you tackle any social or environmental triggers contributing to your alcohol abuse. Our compassionate team is here to help with evidence-based treatment programs. Contact us today to learn more.