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The Role of Genetics in Alcohol Addiction

Many of the things we think of as behavioral issues have some basis in our genetic code. This is true for alcohol addiction, as well. This doesn’t mean that a person isn’t responsible for their choices and actions, but it does mean that some people may naturally be more likely to become addicted to alcohol.

Is Alcoholism Genetic? Can It Be Inherited?

Although they’re often used interchangeably, there is a difference between “genetic” and “hereditary.”

“Genetic” means something affects the genes in a person’s cells. “Hereditary” means it can be passed genetically from parents to offspring. Alcoholism doesn’t directly affect genes, but a predisposition can be passed down. So, it’s technically hereditary, but you’ll sometimes see the word “genetic” used to mean the same thing.

Research has shown a definite link between alcoholism and genetics, and it seems to involve a combination of elements rather than a specific gene. Researchers say about half of alcoholism can be attributed to genetics. The rest is attributed to environmental factors and interactions.¹

If I Have a Relative Who Is Addicted to Alcohol, Will I Become Addicted?

Having an addicted relative doesn’t guarantee that you’ll develop alcoholism, but you may have a higher risk. The closer the relative is to you in your “bloodline,” so to speak, the greater the risk. If it is a parent or sibling, for example, the risk is highest. In fact, children of alcoholics are roughly four times more likely to develop an alcohol addiction than their peers.²

Again, even if you have a high genetic predisposition to alcoholism, that’s still only half the story. The other half is non-genetic, and you still have control over much of it.

Other (Non-Hereditary) Risk Factors for Alcoholism

Several non-genetic risk factors play a role in the development of alcohol addiction. The following are some of those factors and how you can manage them if you are predisposed.

  • Drinking a lot/regularly. Limit your alcohol intake and avoid social situations where you’ll feel pressured to drink.
  • Past trauma. Working with a professional therapist on trauma can help lower the risk of self-medication.

Ethnic man lying near psychologist

  • Social influences. If your partner or friends drink regularly, it may influence you to join them. Try to connect with people who don’t drink heavily, and make your stance clear with individuals who may pressure you.
  • Bariatric surgery. Studies suggest that bariatric surgery—like gastric bypass or banding—may increase the risk of developing (or relapsing into) alcoholism. If you’re considering such a surgery, discuss your concerns with your doctor and be aware of the potential for an increased risk.

Finding Help for Yourself or a Loved One

If you or someone close to you has developed an alcohol addiction, Adelante Recovery Center can help. At our alcohol and drug rehab in Orange County, we provide medically monitored detox and effective inpatient residential programs through clinically backed, time-tested methodologies. Contact us online or call (949) 427-9099 today to learn more.

Sources:

  1. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-use-disorder/genetics-alcohol-use-disorder
  2. https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-Of-Alcoholics-017.aspx