Alcoholism and Genetics

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited:  November 17 ,
| 4 Sources

As research continues on alcoholism and genetics, there is mounting evidence that there is a link between the two.

It is not as uncommon as some people may think for the children of alcoholic parents to have drinking issues as well. While these important studies are shedding light on one of most common disease processes on the globe, namely alcohol abuse, they have yet to precisely identify the gene, or combination of genes, that may be the root cause of the problem.

These same studies are showing that aspects of genetic makeup do, indeed, play an important part in the development of the disease when that genetic makeup is present. In other words, there is a connection between alcoholism and genetics. What is not yet known to any certainty is just how important a role this plays in whether or not a person will succumb to the disease.

Those who are doing their own research on this topic should not be overly concerned if they find conflicting arguments between studies. There is still much work to be done on this subject.

Alcoholism and Genetics - Research Findings

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the children of alcoholic parents are as much as four times at risk of developing drinking problems then those of non-abusers. While this may be startling news, it must be kept in mind that environmental factors will also play an important role in the whether or not a person becomes dependent on alcohol.

An example of this was revealed during a study conducted in Sweden in which biological twins who were adopted in early life, yet raised apart from one another, were followed. For those children who were exposed to drinking by their adoptive family the incidence of their developing issues as well was only slightly higher than the general population.

However, for those twins who had biological alcoholic parents the incidence of drinking problems in later life were significantly higher. This seems to prove that there is a connection between alcoholism and genetics.

Lost Cause?

It should be noted that simply having alcoholic parents does not mean a person is doomed to a life of substance abuse. While there is much evidence that there is a direct link between alcoholism and your genetics, there is also evidence that people make their own choices when it comes to this issue. In other words, even the genetically predisposed can decide if they are going to drink or not drink.

According to the Dr. Enoch Gordis, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse, finding these genes in a person does not signify that the person will be a lost cause. "These genes are for risk, not density," he stated. Being "at risk" means the child of alcoholic parents may have a higher tolerance for the substance than those who are not at risk. A higher tolerance can often mean the person will need to drink more in order to get the same high as a person without the risk factor. This increased consumption can lead to dependency issues.

Being "at risk" may also be linked to having a higher than normal level of craving for the substance. Many of the medications that are currently being used for treatment of this disease process are aimed at helping the person to control the craving for the substance.

It is believed that decreasing the craving level will lead to decreased consumption. And decreased consumption will lead to decreased episodes of drinking and relapses.

Using the information that is being collected on the links between alcoholism and genetics may make it possible to identify those who are "at risk" so that preventive measures can be taken while they are young to help them avoid future issues with drinking.

More alcoholism and genetics on our main genetics and alcoholism page

Alcoholism home page

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 

I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LPC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More

Ref: Review of Adoption and Twin Studies