Does Alcoholism Run in Familes?

by Kay
(Auburn wa)

My dad died at the young age of 57. He died from alcoholism. Being raised with an addict all my childhood, I told myself I would never drink...

My main question is, I have a younger brother that has followed in my dad's footsteps. He consumes about 28 cans of beer everyday. It just breaks my heart to see him doing the same as my dad did.

My question is, if it runs in your family, are you more likely to become a alcoholic?

He and I are 2 years apart, and I choose NOT to drink, because of the way my dad was, and my brother choose's TO drink...

As you can see, we both choose different ways. Is this a normal situation?

Thank you for your time! Kay D.


It is normal for siblings to choose different ways of responding to an experience. You both experienced your dad’s alcoholism and his untimely demise. However, the two of you are choosing to respond to it in opposite ways. Some research points to a genetic link in alcoholism. I’m not entirely sure if they’ve uncovered the specific gene or not. And, if so, I’m not sure if that gene is specific to alcoholism or just a tendency toward addiction in general. I am not familiar with the very latest research. However, aside from the possibility of a genetic link, there are other factors that contribute to the trend in families to abuse alcohol.

First, I tend to believe that anybody has the potential to become an alcoholic. We, as humans, have the ability to become addicted to a variety of things from shopping to junk food to TV to Internet to alcohol to
drugs. This addiction can be physiological or psychological or both.

This line of thinking becomes evident when we study heroin addicts, for example. Anyone can become a heroin addict if they do heroin. Everyone will become a heroin addict if they do heroin even a handful of times. This shows that human bodies respond physiologically in the same way to that substance. I’m not sure if this is the case with alcohol as well but it wouldn’t be a far stretch of the imagination to say that it is. Since alcohol is not as highly addictive as heroin, many people can use alcohol and never become addicted. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they CAN’T become an alcoholic if given enough alcohol at frequent enough intervals.

In addition, someone who is not physiologically addicted to alcohol could be psychologically addicted. They could love the feeling of escape that alcohol provides or the lowering of inhibitions that allows them to be more sociable than usual. They could be addicted to the sense of belonging they feel at the local bar. Any number of things can make something psychologically addictive.

Lastly, your brother may simply be repeating a learned coping mechanism. Your dad chose alcohol to cope. Your brother watched and learned. You watched and learned, learned what not to do.

I’m not sure whether your brother is physiologically addicted, psychologically addicted, both, or neither. Regardless, excessive alcohol consumption is dangerous for his mind, his body, and his overall life.

Here is more about adult children of alcoholics, and some alcohol abuse statistics on how alcohol affects the family.

If your brother wants to get treatment for his alcoholism, a good place to start is this page on alcohol abuse treatment.

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Is there a genetic link in alcoholism?

If my parents are alcoholics are my siblings and I more likely to also be alcoholics?

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