Is Alcoholism Genetic?

Is alcoholism genetic? Research shows having a relative with alcohol addiction can increase your chances of developing alcoholism.

Alcoholism Linked to Several Genes

If you are wondering whether alcoholism is a genetic disease, it is complex. Various sources link alcoholism to several different genes. A few genes that contribute to alcoholism include ALDH2 and ADH1B.1

What Are the Chances You Will Inherit Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a hereditary addiction in some families. If your parent(s) battled alcoholism, you are four times more likely to develop the condition, According to The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Yet, environmental factors may also play a significant role in many cases.

Genes contribute 45%-65% to factors causing alcoholism, according to the National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information. While different genes are involved in addiction and alcoholism, two people can have the same level of risk even though they have different gene profiles.2

Is Alcohol Tolerance Genetic?

Alcohol tolerance is a stage of Alcohol Use Disorder that causes your body to need larger doses of alcohol to achieve the same “high” feeling. While research proves a genetic basis for alcoholism, tolerance is not hereditary. You achieve alcohol tolerance by drinking alcohol repeatedly over a period of time.3

Alcohol Intolerance

Alcohol intolerance is a state of adverse body reactions when you drink alcohol. Some common examples include skin flushing, stuffy nose, and more. This reaction results from having a gene that causes issues with metabolizing alcohol. Alcohol intolerance can be genetic, especially among people of Asian descent.

What Causes Alcoholism?

There are several causes of alcoholism, including biological factors such as physiology and genetics. Scientists have noted that up to 51 genes in various chromosome regions can be attributed to alcohol dependence. Parents then pass these genes on to their children. These genes mean that the child is genetically predisposed to alcohol addiction – but that does not mean they will automatically fall into that late in life.

Environmental factors such as living close to people who drink alcohol, social factors including religion, culture, family, and work, and psychological factors like mental health conditions like depression, may also lead to alcoholism. People with mental health conditions such as depression tend to drink alcohol as an escape and slowly find themselves drinking more over time.

Studies of Alcohol and Genetics

Studies of twins, adoptions, and other studies of families have been able to show links between genetics and alcoholism. Other studies involving alcohol and genetics include:4

Genetically Sensitivities to Alcohol

Scientists bred two strains of mice, with one strain not genetically sensitive to alcohol, while the other was acutely sensitive to alcohol. These two groups of mice behaved differently when exposed to the same amount of alcohol. The sensitive mice passed out quickly and lost their inhibition compared to those genetically less sensitive to alcohol.

Fruit Fly Similarities

A study conducted by the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) used fruit flies to understand genetic predisposition to alcoholism. According to San Francisco's scientists, humans behave like drunken drosophila fruit flies when they consume alcohol. The study found that humans have the same molecular mechanisms that control their alcohol resistance as fruit flies do.5

How Does a Genetic Predisposition to Alcoholism Increase Your Chance of Addiction?

A genetic predisposition to alcoholism increases your chances of alcohol addiction in the following ways:

How A Person Metabolizes Alcohol

Your body has two enzymes associated with breaking down alcohol, ADH (Alcohol Dehydrogenase) and ALDH (Aldehyde Dehydrogenase). ADH helps break down alcohol into acetaldehyde before it is converted to acetate by other enzymes. A fast-acting ADH or a slow-acting ALDH can affect how a person metabolizes alcohol and, in turn, can have an effect on a person’s drinking habits.

Sensitivity to the Effects of Alcohol

If you are highly sensitive to alcohol, you can develop various unpleasant physical symptoms when you drink such as itching, feverish feeling, or skin flushes. Someone who experiences these symptoms may be less likely to drink as much as someone insensitive to (or less affected by) alcohol.

Level of Tolerance to Alcohol

Some people have a high tolerance for alcohol as compared to other people. These people are likely to drink more alcohol than those who are intolerant; hence, they have a higher risk of alcoholism.

Symptoms of Withdrawal

Experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms when you quit or reduce your alcohol consumption may prompt you to quit alcohol, compared to someone who experiences the opposite. These withdrawal symptoms may include high blood pressure, seizures, irregular heartbeats, and more.   

The Effects of Alcohol on Organs on The Body

Alcohol affects the communication pathways in your brain and damages the liver, pancreas, heart, and more. If you have a parent who suffered severe organ damage from alcoholism, you are less likely to do the same.

Environmental Factors for Alcohol Use

The environment you work, live, or grow up in affects how you use and think about alcohol. Some of these factors are: 

Growing Up Around Alcohol

Growing up in a household with an alcoholic parent can have both psychological and physical effects on the children. Exposing your children to alcoholic behaviors like abuse can change how they view alcohol. A parent’s alcoholism condition may also contribute to feelings of anger, guilt, embarrassment, depression, or confusion, and can make children question their self worth.

Enabling An Alcoholic

When you make it easier for the person battling alcoholism, they never get better. It begins with a desire to help a family member, loved one, or another person with an alcohol addiction, but develops into behaviors that enable the alcoholic to continue their addiction, rather than moving them in the direction of quitting. 

In an enabling environment, the alcoholic never has to face the negative consequences of their addiction and therefore never seeks treatment, and recovery becomes much less likely. 

Normalizing Problematic Drinking and Alcoholic Behaviors

An environment that normalizes problematic drinking and alcoholic behaviors increases the risk of addiction. 

Risk Factors for Alcoholism

The following are some factors correlated with a greater risk of developing alcoholism:

  • Starting to drink alcohol at an early age
  • A history of trauma
  • Mental health conditions
  • Difficulty in controlling impulses in adolescence and childhood
  • Cognitive impairments, including memory loss
  • Binge drinking as an adult
  • High-stress careers
  • An environment where you witnessed excessive drinking during childhood
  • Excessive drinking as an adolescent
Is alcoholism genetic

Tips to Avoid Alcoholism

It can be scary to notice a pattern of drinking among family members or relatives, but there are ways to avoid developing an addiction yourself, including:

  • Make an effort to stay within moderate drinking limits
  • Engage in positive and sober activities
  • Spend time with people who don’t drink
  • Avoid binge drinking
  • Avoid self-medicating with alcohol
  • Recognize your possible triggers such as certain places, negative emotions, alcoholic tendencies, people, or positive emotions
  • Build a trusted support network of people who are positive and help build your self-esteem and confidence

Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder at Soledad House

You’ll work closely with a team of professional health care providers at Soledad House as they guide you through counseling, detox, and treatment. While recovery is not an easy process, we will hold your hand toward a drug-free and sober life. Please schedule an appointment with our team for more information on medications, procedures, self-care, or therapy that can help.6

Contact Soledad House to Learn More

Our team is standing by to discuss treatment options with you. Your call is completely confidential and no obligation is required.