Research points to a connection between alcoholism and heredity; however, both genetics and the environment play an interconnected role in the propensity for a person to abuse or become dependent on alcohol. Researchers are looking for genes that influence alcoholism heredity. It is believed that there is not a single gene involved but multiple genes; however, the links between alcoholism and one's heredity are only now beginning to be understood.
Research into the genetics of alcoholism is important because it can help us to understand who is at risk for developing the disease so we can take preventative steps and because it may lead to better treatment. Therefore more research into the relationship between heredity and alcoholism is needed.
While a child of an alcoholic parent will not automatically develop a drinking problem, children born to alcoholic parents are about 50% more likely to develop alcoholism-related issues during their lives than children born to non-alcoholic parents due to alcoholism heredity.
According to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI), children of alcoholics may have:
Higher risk for alcohol and other drug problems, both in adolescence and in adulthood.
An “addictive personality.” For instance, they may become addicted to gambling as adults.
Pervasive tension and stress, and more difficulty coping with stress than other children. This may carry over into adulthood, as well.
Higher levels of anxiety and depression than their peers, both as children and as adults.
Poor performance in school, including poor grades and difficulty getting along with teachers and other students.
Problems with coping with stress and conflict.
Risk-taking personality and attention-seeking behaviors.
The above problems are the case regardless of whether the children are raised by alcoholics or not, as long as the biological parents are alcoholics. That is where alcoholism and heredity comes in.
Yet alcoholism heredity is just one factor in a child’s vulnerability to the disease. Environmental factors play a pivotal role. Relationships, peer pressure, emotional events, lack of parental guidance, and easy access to alcohol all can contribute to increased alcoholism risk. Children of alcoholics may live in unstable environments, which may contribute to stress and depression. They may get used to having alcohol around all the time, and may learn from an early age that drinking is an appropriate way to deal with stress. The above can look like alcoholism and heredity, but it’s really not; it’s the environment. This is what experts in the field call a combination of nature and nurture.
Providing support systems, an outlet for expression, and counseling at an early age can help children who are prone to alcoholism hedge against potential addiction. Teaching appropriate coping skills also helps. Schools often provide programs aimed at teaching students to avoid alcohol and drugs, and these can be helpful for children of alcoholics. Alcoholism heredity is certainly not destiny.
While it should be clear that a child of alcoholics would not necessarily become an alcoholic due to alcoholism heredity, it should also be noted that a child of non-alcoholic parents could also develop alcohol dependence as an adult.