Thanks to concerted public awareness campaigns, most people now understand that alcoholism is a disease, not a character flaw or a sign of poor self-control. But why do some people develop this disease, while others are able to drink in moderation without becoming addicted? Is alcoholism genetic, or is some other cause to blame?
Is Alcoholism Genetic?
Let’s begin by addressing the question at the top of this post: Is alcoholism genetic or hereditary? In other words, are people born with an inherited gene that predisposes them to become addicted to alcohol?
Decades of research tells us that there may be a genetic component to alcoholism. However, scientists have not yet identified any single gene or gene cluster that guarantees that someone will develop alcohol use disorder (which is the clinical term for alcoholism).
According to a May 2013 article in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Reviews Gastroenterology and Hepatology, multiple studies involving both twins and adopted siblings suggest that as much as 45%-65% of the risk of alcoholism may be attributable to genetics.
In most cases, the likelihood that a person will abuse and become addicted to alcohol can be affected by both genetic/hereditary factors and environmental influences.
- On the genetic side, people can inherit certain characteristics and traits that may make them more likely to abuse and become addicted to alcohol. These characteristics can include impulsivity, elevated sensitivity to stress, poor self-esteem, and novelty-seeking. Genetics can also determine how a person’s body reacts to the presence of alcohol.
- On the environmental side, certain circumstances and experiences can increase the likelihood that a person will begin to misuse alcohol. Examples of these influences can include exposure to overwhelming stress, major life changes such as job loss or the end of a relationship, and trauma.
Also, certain mental health disorders (which can also have both environmental and genetic causes) can raise a person’s risk for alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
Why Does Alcoholism Seem to Run in Families?
One reason why people wonder if alcoholism is hereditary is that it often appears to run in families. On the surface, this would seem to confirm that genetics are to blame. But – as with the general risk of alcoholism that we discussed in the previous section – the presence of alcoholism in several family members can be due to both genetics and environment.
For example, we know that untreated trauma can be a risk factor for alcoholism. If a person is subjected to abuse or neglect during childhood, they may be more likely to develop a problem with alcohol when they grow up. They may also be more likely to act abusively toward their own children. This can increase the likelihood that their children will struggle with alcoholism during adulthood.
Abuse and neglect are just two examples of environmental factors that can cause multiple members (or multiple generations) of a family to be affected by alcoholism. Other external influences that can have this effect include poverty and living in a culture where alcohol abuse is encouraged.
So, is alcoholism hereditary? In some cases, yes. But as we have discussed in this section, that doesn’t mean that addiction to alcohol is solely a genetic concern.
Is Alcohol Tolerance Inherited?
Tolerance is one of the classic signs of addiction. When a person abuses alcohol or another drug on a regular basis, they can develop some resistance to the effects of the substance. In the case of alcohol, this means that they may need to drink more than they used to in order to become intoxicated.
Tolerance can be influenced by how a person’s body metabolizes and eliminates alcohol. This can, in turn, depend on the individual’s genetic makeup. Tolerance is also affected by how much and how often a person drinks. These behaviors can be impacted by a person’s genes as well as their environment.
This means that alcohol tolerance can be inherited. However, as is the case with virtually every aspect of the question, “Is alcoholism genetic?” the answer is that tolerance can result from a combination of internal/inherited factors and external or environmental influences.
What to Do if You Think You Have Alcoholism?
If you think you have become addicted to alcohol, you may want to make an appointment for an assessment with a reputable addiction treatment provider. Completing an evaluation and receiving an accurate diagnosis are two vital steps on the path toward treatment and recovery.
The information that is collected during your assessment can help your treatment team determine which levels of care and types of treatment are best for you.
Medications can keep you safe and as comfortable as possible while you are going through withdrawal. Therapy can help you in many ways, including:
- Gaining valuable information about alcoholism and recovery
- Identifying your triggers (the events or circumstances that pushed you into alcohol abuse and that could threaten your recovery)
- Developing and practicing vital relapse prevention skills
- Sharing support with others who are working toward recovery
- Connecting with community-based resources and support services
Contact Our Alcoholism Treatment Center at Los Angeles Detox
LA Detox offers multiple levels of customized care for adults who have been struggling with alcohol addiction. At our alcoholism treatment center in Los Angeles, California, you will have the opportunity to work in close collaboration with a team of experts whose skills are equaled only by their dedication and compassion. When you’re ready to stop abusing alcohol and start living a healthier life in recovery, the LA Detox team is here for you. Visit our Contact page or call us today to learn more.