Are Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Genetic
Alcoholism is often touted as a family trait, and there certainly have been scientific studies of an “alcoholism gene.” Genetics definitely influence the likelihood of alcohol abuse that leads to alcoholism. Narrowing down exactly how is not the simplest of tasks.
Genes are responsible for roughly half of the risk for alcoholism according to research. However, whether someone will become an alcoholic is not determined by genes alone. Vulnerability in this case is a product of a person’s biology (genes), environment, and age. It has been found to be difficult to separate which of these accounts for what when considering the propensity of a person to develop a dependency upon alcohol.
A person’s risk for developing alcoholism is driven by numerous genes. Some genes increase a person’s risk, as there are also those that decrease that risk, directly or indirectly. An example would be, there are people of Asian descent that carry a gene variant that modifies their ability to effectively metabolize alcohol causing them to experience nausea, flushing, and rapid heartbeat while under the influence of alcohol. As we learn more about what genes determine for our health, research has uncovered different factors may revise the manifestations that our genes govern. This area of research is called epigenetics. Every day, scientists are reaching new levels in their understanding about how epigenetics can affect our risk for developing alcoholism.
Wading through the gray areas that contribute to a person’s probability of becoming dependent upon alcohol can be confusing. Genes are not the only things children inherit from their parents. Parental behavior and how they act toward each other and their children has an immeasurable influence on children growing up in the family. The risk for alcoholism is also affected by the inner workings of family life.
Studies show a high level of risk for alcoholism in family situations that include:
- Parents’ alcohol abuse is severe
- Both parents abuse alcohol and/or drugs
- An alcoholic parent is depressed
- A parent suffers from other psychological problems
- Conflicts in the family tend to be solved with aggression/violence
While there is a genetic inclination in some families to become an abuser of alcohol or become dependent upon it, that doesn’t always equate to that outcome being a guarantee. It can vary in each person and even be challenged by a firm effort to stay away from the behaviors that aide in the likelihood of becoming addicted to alcohol. Abstaining from alcohol use and being surrounded by people who don’t drink or abuse drugs are lifestyle choices that assist in thwarting any urges that may surface due to a genetic propensity toward alcohol.