Does alcoholism run in families? Are some people more prone to struggle with alcohol than others? Is there something in our genes that makes us more prone to alcohol addiction?
While it is true that there is a family influence and alcoholism can be passed down, it’s important to understand that this topic is much more complicated than just inheriting a genetic disposition. In this article, we explore the connection between alcoholism and family history. We’ll dive into the question of does alcoholism run in families and if there’s a genetic component involved.
What is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism can be defined as a gripping addiction to alcohol that can have devastating effects. It represents the most extreme form of alcohol abuse, where individuals lose all control over their drinking habits, leading to serious consequences for their health, well-being and those around them.
Alcoholism is commonly split into three categories to help determine the severity of the alcohol use disorder (AUD) – mild, moderate, and severe. However, no matter what the severity of the alcohol addiction, if left untreated, it will only worsen over time, with the negative impacts becoming increasingly worse and potentially life-threatening.
If you’re suffering from alcoholism, you’ll likely feel as though you’re unable to control your drinking or see a way forward in life without regular alcohol consumption. Of course, excessively drinking alcohol can impact your life in so many ways. Alcoholism can significantly impact your relationships with family and friends as often the individual’s behaviour completely changes, often isolating themselves from their loved ones as they attempt to hide their condition.
Alcohol and drug addiction can drastically impact your professional goals and financial situation as you consistently underperform at work or spend outside of your budget to fuel such an expensive habit.
Perhaps most noticeably, alcoholism will impact your physical and psychological health. The first signs of alcoholism are usually physical as you’ll likely appear gaunt or pale, experience an unhealthy weight loss or weight gain, have skin sores or bloodshot eyes, and be much more susceptible to diabetes, liver disease, heart disease, and stroke. Your psychological health can also quickly deteriorate as you’ll likely suffer from increased anxiety or depression, paranoia, loneliness, stress, bipolarity, and even a higher risk of suicide.
This is why it’s so crucial that you seek out support as soon as you begin to notice any signs of alcoholism. There’s no time to waste when it comes to turning your life around and ensuring that you and those around you live a healthy life for as long as possible.
Genetics and Alcoholism
Genetics can certainly be a contributing factor to alcoholism. And during alcohol rehabilitation for alcoholism, one of the first exercises is to identify the underlying reasons why you’re addicted to alcohol. Typically, there isn’t just one reason. It’s more likely to be a combination of external and genetic factors such as a traumatic event, the environment in which you were brought up in, and the social circle that you associated with.
There may even be biological factors that can make someone high risk, which means that they may be more genetically inclined to become addicted to alcohol. There are some common signs of alcoholism which identify a genetic component, such as:
- Experiencing an intense craving for alcohol.
- Having a close family member who struggles with alcohol use disorder.
- Alcohol sensitivity.
- Drinking much more once a small amount has been consumed. In other words, once you start, you can’t stop drinking.
- Experiencing a different reaction to drinking alcohol than other people, which can trigger cravings. This could mean that you engage in daily drinking and even continue drinking for long periods of time after a social event.
Some people also believe having a higher tolerance for drinking large amounts of alcohol is hereditary. However, building up a tolerance to drinking alcohol can only be achieved by the individual drinking more over a longer period of time. On the other hand, alcohol intolerance may be passed down in families. This means that when someone has alcohol intolerance, their body reacts negatively to drinking alcohol. This intolerance is often related to how their body processes alcohol, which is thought to have a genetic basis.
Family History and Alcoholism
The environment and the people that you grow up with can have a significant influence on your alcohol consumption. When we see family members excessively drinking or have parents abuse alcohol in front of us frequently, it’s easy to presume that this behaviour is normal, which is where we learn or inherit our behaviours and attitudes towards drinking alcohol.
If you were exposed to alcoholic parents and alcohol consumption was encouraged in the family home, this leaves you at a much higher risk of developing alcohol disorders as you get older. We often disregard how much our own behaviours towards alcohol can impact a person’s risk. For example, a younger person who experiences weddings or sporting events growing up will see first-hand that these celebrations often involve heavy drinking, teaching them this association from an early age.
Does Alcoholism Run in Families because of Genetics, or Are There Other Risk Factors?
Yes, alcoholism can run in families. But, genetics are likely to be just one of the many factors that contribute to alcoholism. If you had an alcoholic parent, that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily destined to be an alcoholic yourself. It just means that genetic links may be present if you were to develop alcoholism.
Aside from sharing the same genes, there are many other risk factors that can contribute to someone developing alcoholism, with the most significant alcohol addiction-related risk being environmental factors. Growing up with an alcoholic parent can be extremely challenging for a child. Alcoholism can increase the likelihood of aggressive behaviour, manipulation, violence, emotional and psychological instability, as well as financial difficulties. As a result, children living in such an environment often experience a chaotic and potentially hazardous upbringing, which can distort what they perceive as normal and stunt the development of healthy coping skills.
Environmental Factors Play a Role in Alcohol Use Disorders
Another significant risk factor contributing to the development of alcohol addiction is the normalisation and acceptance of alcohol consumption within both family and society. This normalisation is perpetuated not only by the immediate family but also through influences such as the media, role models, and peer groups. These external factors often encourage excessive and potentially dangerous drinking habits, often portraying alcohol consumption as cool and glamorising it through movies, music, and other forms of media.
In this environment, it is easy for observers to perceive that individuals with alcohol addiction face no negative consequences for their actions. This perception further reinforces the belief that excessive alcohol consumption is acceptable and without repercussions. As a result, those witnessing such behaviours may be influenced to believe that drinking alcohol in excess is harmless or even desirable.
Cultural Norms Around Drinking
This cultural acceptance and portrayal of alcohol as a norm can create a misleading perception, particularly among impressionable individuals, leading to an increased risk of developing alcohol addiction. Recognising and addressing these societal influences is crucial in promoting healthier attitudes towards alcohol consumption and preventing the potential harm caused by alcoholism.
Mental health disorders
One unfortunate reality is that individuals dealing with mental health disorders may also be at a higher risk of developing alcohol addiction. The presence of pre-existing psychological illnesses can make someone more vulnerable to the lure of alcohol as a means of coping with their emotional pain.
It is not uncommon for people struggling with mental health conditions to turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication. They may seek temporary relief from their psychological distress, hoping that alcohol will alleviate their pain