Alcohol use disorder, more commonly known as alcoholism, is a big problem in the US. Statistics reveal that at least 18 million Americans struggle with alcohol use disorder. This means that at least 1 in 12 people have a serious problem with alcoholism. It is also estimated to cost Americans more than $220 billion every year in legal, productivity and crime costs.
Considering the prevalence and seriousness of the issue, many studies have been conducted into this common substance use disorder (SUD). One of the most significant questions being asked by these studies though is where does alcoholism come from?
Is it an issue that occurs uniquely in each affected individual or are there deeper causes for it? Are there genetic or hereditary factors that contribute to or even cause alcohol dependency in the first place?
Many studies have asked these questions and we have the answers. You’ll learn all about the genetic factors influencing alcohol use disorder in this post, as we answer the question of whether alcoholism is hereditary.
Do Genetics and Alcohol Have Anything in Common?
Yes, they do. Plenty in fact if recent research is anything to go by.
For instance, this 2012 study reported that they discovered 11 pairs of genes that were associated in some way with alcohol use. The research was initially conducted using mice, which have a strikingly similar genetic makeup to humans. The researchers then found these same 11 pairs of genes in humans as well.
Some of these genes include the ADH1B gene which is reported to be prevalent amongst East Asians. The gene is associated with an alcohol flush reaction that causes these individuals to feel hot, sweaty and sick when they drink. The presence of this gene is considered a deterrent as it makes drinking uncomfortable.
Another study identified mutations of the GABRB1 gene as being linked with increased risk of AUD. The gene causes changes to how much gamma-aminobutyric acid is available to the brain. This acid is linked to relaxation, stress and anxiety relief. So, when the gene reduces amounts of the acid available to the brain, a carrier may be prompted to abuse alcohol to feel better.
And it doesn’t end there either. Another gene, Beta-Klotho, was associated with drinking less. The gene is reportedly triggered by two hormones which occurs in an individual that has a “sweet tooth”. This means the individual will prefer sugary tastes and is less likely to enjoy alcohol.
Obviously, as these studies show, there’s more than a bit of a case to be made for the argument that genetics has some relation with alcoholism. But what then are the risks for someone that has parents who either drink or carry these genes?
There’s quite a risk apparently, according to several studies. Many of these studies have found that alcoholism has been noted to run in families. For instance, this study on adoption found that alcoholism in adoptees correlates more strongly with their biological parents. So even though they are adopted, these individuals still had a tendency to drink based on their inherited traits.
Another study focusing on the incidence of alcoholism between twins had similar results. It found that 45% – 65% of alcohol use incidence is down to genetic factors. Regardless of the presence of alcoholism in their adoptive families, the incidence of alcohol was dramatically higher for twins whose biological fathers were alcoholics.
These studies indicate that there’s quite a risk of developing alcohol use disorder for individuals that have these traits in their family. But does this necessarily mean that such individuals will become alcohol dependent?
Does Alcohol Use Increase Based Solely on Genetic or Hereditary Factors?
Most certainly not. It has been recognized for a long time now that even though alcohol use can be influenced by genetic or hereditary factors, there much more to the story than that.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism confirms that genes are only responsible for about half the risk for alcoholism. Another study found that even though children of alcoholics are 2 to 4 times more likely to suffer alcoholism, fewer than half of them actually do.
What these studies show is the simple fact that having genes associated with alcohol only increases the risk and nothing more. The same thing goes for having parents that were alcoholics. They don’t lead to the conclusion that having these genes automatically makes the individual an alcoholic in waiting.
It must be understood that the reasons for alcohol dependency are varied. They cannot simply be pinned on genetics alone. So, if you were thinking genetics alone will provide the explanation for alcohol use dependency, you need to have a rethink.
This begs the question. If genetics is only half of the story, what then is the other half? That leads us to the role of environmental and social factors in the development of alcohol use dependency.
How Much Influence Does The Environment Have?
Quite a bit. Many studies have equally shown that the environment plays a substantial part in the development of alcoholism. Some of these environmental and social factors include the following:
- Income: Yes, money does seem to be the root of evil after all. If not all evil, it is at least one of the roots of alcoholism according to this poll. It found that upper income Americans are more likely to drink than those with lower income. The study showed 78% of people with annual household income of $78,000 or more drink. On the other hand, only 45% of people with annual household income of $30,000 or less do.
- Early Exposure: There’s a lot of evidence that shows kids who start drinking early may have difficulties stopping. They are more likely to develop alcohol addiction or dependency later in life.
- Parental Involvement: Lack of parental supervision may increase risk. In the same vein, negative parental involvement such as physical or sexual abuse may also increase risk. These individuals may self-medicate with alcohol and other substances as a means of coping.
- Drinking Culture: America has quite a drinking culture, and this has contributed massively to alcoholism. Happy hour is a common culture and the influence of friends and family indulging in this culture can increase risk.
- Stress: Alcohol is a popular coping mechanism. When individuals experience difficult life events such as a death, physical illness and the like, they may use alcohol to cope and then discover they cannot stop. Work stress too can be a significant risk factor, especially for individuals in tasking professions like lawyers, doctors and police officers.
These factors show that alcohol use dependency is not just limited to genetic or hereditary factors. Although they may increase your chances of saying yes when offered a drink, they don’t mean you will become alcohol dependent.
If you have been struggling with alcohol use dependency and are wondering if your problems are hereditary, the answer is 50-50. While the genetic 50% is basically out of your hand, you can work on the parts that can be changed.
Reduce The 50% That You Can
Your route to a life of better health, wellness and fulfilment starts with recognizing you have a problem you cannot solve alone and reaching out for help. We, at Stonegate Center, want you to know that we exist to help you fight your addiction and come out on top.
Recognize that you cannot do it alone. If you want to get started on your route to a healthy, happy life, please contact us today. Our Admissions Specialists can be reached by phone at (817) 993-9733 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We offer a faith-based approach to treatment, which means we incorporate one’s spiritual journey into the recovery process. On top of individual and group therapy, we also offer equine therapy, recreational therapy (e.g. ropes course), and a two-part Family Program for our moms and dads who are curious as to what goes on in rehab.
Seeing as the majority of our clients struggle with alcohol use disorders (AUD), we believe our intensive, cognitive behavioral therapy approach combined with a long-term after-care plan is crucial for success. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us! We’re just outside of Fort Worth, Texas.
Stonegate Center is a faith-based alcohol and drug abuse treatment center based in Azle, Texas. Our separate treatment facilities for men and women provide safe and healing environment where our residents can receive guidance and achieve physical freedom from addiction. Stonegate Center stresses community, accountability, and fellowship. Serving the communities of Azle, Fort Worth and Dallas, Texas, and beyond.