Is Alcoholism Hereditary?

There are both hereditary and environmental factors that may put an individual more at risk for having an alcohol addiction. However, being genetically predisposed to alcohol abuse does not necessarily mean that you are destined to become an alcoholic. Having awareness of your family history of alcohol and/or drug addiction can help prevent dependence from occurring by knowing when to be cautious if needed. If alcohol abuse has already begun, you may be able to undergo drug detox at home safely. Full blown alcoholism requires medical treatment at an alcohol rehab center due to the possible deadly withdrawal symptoms though. You can learn more about  how to stop drinking safely in our article here. 

Genetic Factors

There is no single ‘alcoholic’ gene, but hundreds of genes when amplified together may put you more at risk for addiction. Children of alcoholic parents are 3-4 times more likely to become alcoholics themselves. This is also true of the grandchildren, nieces/nephews, or cousins of alcoholics but to a lesser degree. Some genes specifically pertaining to this have been discovered, and they mostly involve the control of the development of the brain’s reward centers. Some genetic anomalies that have been linked to alcohol abuse are:

-Having a smaller amygdala: The amygdala is where feelings about cravings are likely processed. Therefore, having one that is smaller than average makes you more likely to have uncontrollable cravings and potential problems with controlling any kind of addiction. 

-Having an unusual amount of serotonin: Having an irregular amount of serotonin often leads to issues with controlling mood. Numerous mental disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder are linked to unusual serotonin levels for this reason. Alcohol dependency is more common for those experiencing these kinds of mental health problems as it can often be used as a coping mechanism. Having a mental illness increases the risk of alcoholism by 20-50% depending on the mental disorder and other factors involved. 

-The brain being affected by alcohol in an abnormal way: Those predisposed to alcoholism may have a different experience while drinking alcoholic beverages than those who are not. They may feel less of the negative effects from drinking, which would make them less likely to stop alcohol intake at a time that most people would. Feeling only the positive effects like reduced anxiety and none of the negative effects like nausea can quickly cause an addiction.  

Environmental Factors

Genes themselves only account for about 50% of the risk factors involved when it comes to alcohol abuse, however. Environment plays a large role in this kind of addictive behavior, especially the environment present throughout childhood. Some environmental risk factors include: 

-Being around an alcoholic parent or family member

-Having alcohol readily available

-Drinking alcohol at an early age

-Living in poverty

-Lack of parental supervision as a child

-Physical or sexual abuse 

-Seeing frequent violence 

-Early drug and/or alcohol experimentation

-Experiencing peer pressure

Any of the above situations can cause stress or even childhood trauma, which often leads to mental illness. This along with genetic factors dramatically increases the likelihood of alcohol abuse, and being around others dependent on alcohol and/or drugs increases this likelihood even more. Therefore, although genetics can play a role in your risk for developing alcoholism, it is really heredity and the living environment combined that potentially creates an alcoholic.