Genetics’ Role in Alcoholism (And Addiction)
Is alcoholism genetic? Alcoholism is a disease that hurts people and families every single year. According to the World Health Organization, “alcohol consumption contributes to 3 million deaths each year globally…overall harmful use of alcohol is responsible for 5.1% of the global burden of disease.” Alcoholism destroys families and people’s lives.
Genetics and alcoholism are intertwined. Genes can be a part of the reason an individual can develop a problem with alcohol, however, genetics is not the only cause. Multiple genes, home environment, and environmental factors all have a say in the development of an alcohol use disorder. If you or a loved one are struggling with the consumption of alcohol call us today.
We want to help inform and guide you on your journey to understanding how to beat this addiction. Call us at 614-502- 6347, we would love to help you enjoy a healthy, happy, sober life.
Continue reading for more information about the role genetics play in addiction. If you need more support contact our experts and they can help you get the tools and resources you need.
It’s More Than One Gene
There is not an ‘alcoholism gene.’ There is a genetic component to alcoholism; however, it is not solely one gene. Instead, each person consists of different genetic make-up that can alter possible outcomes, such as being at a higher risk for alcoholism. Scientists have been able to narrow down specific genes that are heavily involved with the consumption of alcohol. They are called alcohol dehydrogenase 1B and mitochondrial aldehyde dehydrogenase 2. They are abbreviated ADH1B and ALDH2. Variations in these genes can affect how someone’s body processes alcohol.
According to Genetics and Alcoholism, “some variations in the gene make metabolism of alcohol more difficult, making the person have more unpleasant effects of the alcohol. It usually makes them avoid alcohol because it makes them feel bad even with just a small amount”.
Therefore, there can be a genetic component to alcoholism. If an individual’s ADH1B and ALDH2 vary oppositely, they could develop a problem with alcohol much easier. Some people’s bodies reject alcohol, and others struggle with it because of their genetic make-up. For example, a person’s race is a part of their genetic make-up, and there are similarities across cultures in terms of genetics and alcoholism.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “some people of Asian descent carry a gene variant that alters their rate of alcohol metabolism, causing them to have symptoms like flushing, nausea, and rapid heartbeat when they drink.” This variant in the ADH1B and ALDH2 genes makes it easier for people to resist alcohol, thus protecting them from alcoholism at a much higher statistic.
Alcoholism in the Family
If there are variants in genes that can put someone at a higher risk for developing alcoholism, then is alcoholism genetic through the family? Genetics is through family bloodlines, and there can be a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. Again, there is no ‘alcoholism gene’; instead, multiple genes can have variants in their design. A genetic predisposition to alcoholism means you have an increased chance of developing alcoholism due to distinct genetic alterations that you inherited from your parents. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, “children of alcoholics are four times more likely than other children to become alcoholics themselves.”
If one of your parents or grandparents struggles with alcoholism, they have specific genes that will change over time. Some studies show families who have a history of alcoholism to possess a smaller amygdala. This is how emotions around craving are processing in the brain. This smaller amygdala can then be passed down and make it more difficult for you to control your alcohol craving. Abnormal serotonin levels are another genetic predisposition to alcoholism. Serotonin levels are connected to your mood and can be altered by alcohol over time. The constant intake of alcohol into the body can cause everyday chemicals in the body, such as dopamine or serotonin, to be less. This genetic component can then lead to alcoholism because alcohol will regulate mood and happiness.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “adoption studies show that alcoholism in adoptees correlates more strongly with their biological parents than their adoptive parents. And twin studies in the US and Europe suggest that approximately 45-65% of the liability is due to genetic factors.”
Essential Signs to be Aware Of
If you are unaware of what alcoholism might look like, you can be aware of signs. If you suspect a parent or family member of yours is struggling with alcoholism, according to Healthline, they might have:
- slurred speech
- slowing of reflexes
- a decreased ability to control bodily movements
- difficulty concentrating
- gaps in memory, or brownouts
- poor decision-making abilities
- risky behavior
- staying conscious but not having memory of your actions, which is called a blackout
If you are a spouse, child, or relative of someone with this behavior, you must talk to someone. Their efforts put you at risk. Therefore they must receive professional treatment. Call us today, and we can help direct you through this process.
Abuse Growing Up
Alcoholism and genetics are connected, but they are never the only reason for its development. It is important to discuss other factors that can lead to this disease that can cause a generational effect. Stress would be a substantial root cause of alcoholism, especially if it started at a young age. Stress, specifically from abuse growing up, can lead to using alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Mary-Anne Enoch conducted a study called, “The Influence of Gene-Environment Interactions on the Development of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.” According to the study, “Individuals exposed to childhood maltreatment were substantially more likely to report that they drank to cope during the first year of alcohol use, and drinking as a coping method is another predictor of the development of alcohol problems. Therefore, adolescent problem drinking may be one pathway from stressors to the development of Alcohol Use Disorders”.
Maltreatment can mean emotional abuse, physical abuse, or sexual abuse. The worst experience was then the higher the stress levels. These higher stress levels then correlate with a higher likelihood of abusing alcohol. If that behavior continues, then that can lead to alcoholism and genetics being varied later in that individual’s family line. It is a horrible vicious cycle. The good news is that the process can stop when you call us and get treatment.
Alcoholism and genetics are affected by environmental factors as well. It is normal to ask ‘is alcoholism genetic?’, and assume it is just a gene problem. Social environments can have a huge source of influence over an individual’s likes, choices, and characteristics. Lots of alcoholism problems begin at a young age due to high school parties and college experiences.
According to the “The Influence of Gene-Environment Interactions on the Development of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence” study, “alcohol consumption is commonly initiated, and drinking patterns established during adolescence and early adulthood. About 50% of alcoholics have developed their symptoms by age 23”.
These environmental factors can intertwine with a previous genetic predisposition to alcoholism. Creating alcoholism as the outcome of both of these factors. The social circle often shapes people’s personalities and choices we surround ourselves with. A study called “The Multiple, Distinct Ways that Personality Contributes to Alcohol Use Disorders” was conducted by Andrew K. Littlefield and Kenneth J. Sher. They studied 3,000 college students because they wanted to see what individuals chose to become part of sororities and fraternities.
According to the study, they discovered that “ individuals high on impulsivity/novelty-seeking appeared to select into Greek societies because of the heavy drinking environment associated with these organizations.” Greek membership is classified as an environmental risk factor because the involvement of alcohol can turn problematic. Unfortunately, Greek societies are known more for their drinking then anything else, so they appeal to specific individuals.
Therefore, it is essential to remember if you have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism, social situations such as these can be incredibly dangerous. There is a possibility of increasing drinking due to the surrounding social environments you put yourself in.
Signs of Alcoholism
Genetics and alcoholism connect, but you should still be aware of the signs of alcoholism. If you know the warning signs, there is a greater chance of you seeking help sooner. Whether it was through your genetics, upbringing, or the environment that caused you to turn to alcohol, there is treatment.
If you believe you or a loved one might be abusing alcohol, there are some warning signs to be aware of. According to Healthline, symptoms of alcohol abuse can include:
- Drinking alcohol to relax
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Beginning to have problems with friends or family due to drinking
- Starting to drink during unsafe times such as driving
Abusing alcohol like this can lead to alcohol addiction. Alcoholism has its signs. According to Healthline, you or your loved one will experience:
- a strong desire or craving to drink most of the time
- an inability to control these cravings
- an inability to stop drinking
- increased tolerance for alcohol
- lying about drinking
- attempting to drink without others knowing
- a failure to get through everyday activities without drinking
The quicker you address these actions, the better. The more this behavior continues then, the more at risk you are of causing damage. Whether that be to your own body and health or someone else through your actions. There is a way to heal and get better from this kind of lifestyle. We want to help guide you away from this path and educate you on your options for recovery. Call us today at 614-502- 6347. We know this isn’t an easy process, but it is the right one. We can lead you back to a sober and happy life again.
Written by Julia Bashaw
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