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Is Alcoholism Hereditary? A Review and Critique JAMA Psychiatry

If anyone is exposed to large amounts of an addictive substance over an extended period, it is likely that their brain will rewire to crave the substance. Even without a genetic component present, a person can still inherit a predisposition to alcohol use disorder due to the culture they grow up in. – Addiction is a chronic disease that affects the brain’s reward center, and researchers have long debated over possible genetic and hereditary contributors to addiction.

While there are differences between genetics and heredity, the terms are mostly interchangeable when talking about alcohol addiction. Alcohol-related risks can also be affected by environmental and social factors. An Top 5 Tips to Consider When Choosing a Sober House for Living experiment using rats at Linköping University in Sweden discovered that those with reduced expression of the gene GAT-3 become addicted to alcohol. This gene codes for a protein that influences the levels of GABA.

Problematic Drinking and Alcoholic Behaviors Are Normalized

Families are very useful for separating true positives from the background of individual variations that we all possess in investigations of rare variants. Now that you have a better understanding of the question “is alcoholism genetic? ” you may be wondering how you can get help for a genetic issue like this, but it is always possible to end the addiction. As is the case with any form of addiction treatment, detoxing (with the help of medical supervision) through a rehabilitation program is the best first step.

If you or a loved one has already developed a problem, there are outpatient and inpatient programs that can help. There are also behavioral genes passed down that could influence a propensity for alcoholism. Mental illnesses, such as depression and schizophrenia, are more common in people with a family history of these disorders. People with mental illness have a higher risk of turning to substance abuse as a way of coping.


But you have a lot of influence over how those genes are expressed in your choices. Trans-ancestral GWAS of alcohol dependence reveals common genetic underpinnings with psychiatric disorders. Sign up to get info about the science behind addiction, the latest trends in addiction treatment, inspirational recovery stories, and much more.

is alcoholism hereditary

These can be related to childhood or upbringing, family environment, social situations, or with a significant other. Genetic makeup only accounts for half of the alcoholic equation. There are also countless environmental factors (work, stress, relationships) that may lead to alcoholism. NIAAA has funded the Collaborative Studies on Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA) since 1989, with the goal of identifying the specific genes that influence alcohol use disorder.

Are You At Risk Of Becoming An Alcoholic?

Understanding your family’s history of drug or alcohol dependency can offer valuable new insight into your personal struggle with substance abuse. It’s possible that they have either a genetic or environmental predisposition to developing an addiction to alcohol or drugs. Family studies have consistently shown that alcohol abuse has a sizable genetic component. Multiple genes that contribute to susceptibility have been discovered over the past 20 years. A much more complete picture of the numerous genes and pathways that influence risk will be found as larger samples are put together and more variations are examined. Technologies for whole genomic and whole genome sequencing are being used to find uncommon variants as their costs decrease.

  • Identifying these genes is difficult because each plays a small role in a much larger picture.
  • If you have a long history of drinking heavily, ask for help before you stop drinking.
  • A lower alcohol tolerance or gene variant that lowers the rate of metabolic processing for alcohol will socially deter people from drinking too much (as it won’t be pleasant).
  • “Heredity” refers to a mutation in a person’s genes that is passed from generation to generation.

In many cases, the child of an alcoholic will have survived some mental, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse before reaching adulthood. This type of trauma is something that doesn’t go away with time but requires therapy and counseling. But people in high-stress work environments are more likely to consume alcohol heavily than those who don’t.

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A genetic tendency to develop an alcohol use disorder may be increased by a family history of alcohol use disorders, with risks for parent-child transmission being higher. It should be explicitly stated that while there is no «gene for alcoholism,» genetic variations do increase risk, and environmental and social factors have a significant impact on the result. Although we are aware that genetics affect risk, we do not yet fully understand how or which specific variations are responsible. As new genes and variations are discovered, a study in this area is ongoing.

Have geneticists identified a specific alcoholism gene that causes alcohol addiction?

The Bottom Line About Genetics and Alcohol Addiction

To be clear, no specific “alcoholism gene” has been identified yet – although scientists around the world are working hard to find it.

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. 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.

Environmental Factors of Hereditary Alcoholism

Having more extended relatives, such as aunts, uncles, grandparents, and other family members, who struggle with alcohol abuse, however, does not have the same strong association. 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. The University of Washington and the University of Queensland conducted one of the largest studies on hereditary alcoholism using twins, as reported in Psychology Today. The results of the study concluded there was a 50 percent predisposition for AUD in males and a 30 percent predisposition for AUD in females when they are twins. In addition, heredity contributes about 50 percent of the risks of developing AUD due to genetic factors. It’s well-known that individuals with a family history of alcoholism are at a higher risk of becoming alcoholics.

Whether you want help for an alcohol use disorder, or have concerns because a family member is struggling, Pacific Sands Recovery Center can help. Our JCAHO-accredited treatment center provides a safe and supportive environment for recovery. Your family circumstances and socioeconomic status influence alcoholism risks.

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