Since alcoholism seems to run in some families, many people wonder if alcohol use disorder is genetic. Even though research on the topic suggests that there may be a hereditary connection, that doesn’t mean that addiction is predetermined or unavoidable. There are things you can do to minimize your risk of alcoholism. Additionally, genetics is not the only factor that leads to alcohol use disorder. Understanding alcoholism, genetics, and the science behind addiction can help provide clarity about whether alcohol use disorder is, in fact, genetic.
What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a broad term that covers a spectrum of problems ranging from occasional binge drinking to alcoholism. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 16 million adults in the United States suffer from AUD. Common characteristics of alcoholism include an intense craving for alcohol, difficulty controlling intake, and continued use despite negative consequences. Alcoholism is a chronic disease that can lead to liver damage, heart problems, and even death. Individuals with alcoholism often have trouble maintaining employment and relationships.
Alcohol use disorder can range from mild to severe, but everyone with the condition has difficulty controlling their drinking. Most people with an alcohol use disorder continue to drink even when doing so causes problems. This pattern of drinking can also lead to mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, psychosis, and antisocial behavior. The good news is therapy, medication, and support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous can help treat alcohol use disorder.
Is Alcoholism Hereditary?
Alcoholism is also a very complex disease, and many factors can contribute to its development. One of the most critical factors is genetics. Alcoholism tends to run in families, and research has shown that alcoholism is more common among people who have a family history of the disease. For example, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reveals that children of alcoholics are four times more likely to become alcoholics than other children.
Although this data reveals that genetics can play a significant role in developing alcohol use disorder, this data does not mean that alcoholism is entirely hereditary. Environmental factors such as past trauma, high-stress environments, and situational circumstances can also contribute to the development of alcoholism. However, if you have a family member with alcoholism, it is essential to be aware of the risks and take steps to reduce your chances of developing the disease.
How Do Genes Influence Alcohol Use Disorder?
Research shows that genes are responsible for about half of the risk for alcohol use disorder. This information means that genes alone can not and do not determine whether you will develop an alcohol use disorder. But multiple genes can increase or decrease your risk of AUD.
For example, some people of Asian ethnicity carry a gene variant that changes the rate at which they metabolize alcohol. This altered gene variant causes them to experience flushed skin, nausea, and a rapid heartbeat when they drink. Many people who experience these side effects avoid alcohol, which helps decrease their risk of developing alcohol use disorder.
Other genetic variants, such as VRK2, DCLK2, FTO, IGF2BP1, BRAP, ADH1B, ALDH2, and RBX1, are associated with high alcohol consumption. In fact, a large genomic study of nearly 275,000 people led by Penn Medicine revealed that heavy drinking and alcohol use disorders were primarily associated with ADH1B, ADH1C, FTO, GCKR, and SLC39A8.
Researchers have also discovered that different factors can alter the expression of genes. How your genes are expressed helps determine how they function in your body. This field of study is called epigenetics. The more scientists understand epigenetics, the more they can identify and recognize different individuals’ risks for developing alcohol use disorder.
Other Important Facts About Alcohol Abuse & Genetics
There is no one “alcohol gene” that causes alcohol use disorder. Scientists have discovered over 550 gene variants that could influence how likely or unlikely someone is to abuse alcohol.
Other important facts and statistics to know about the connection between genes and alcohol use disorder include:
- Children of people with AUD have a greater risk of misusing and abusing alcohol.
- A genetic predisposition to alcohol abuse, as described above, does not mean that someone will develop AUD. Less than 50% of children of people with an alcohol use disorder develop problem drinking habits.
- People without a genetic predisposition to alcohol abuse can develop alcohol use disorder.
- Environment strongly influences the development of alcohol use disorder.
- Genetic predisposition that increases the risk of AUD can begin with a genetic variation that predisposes you to mental health challenges, increasing your risk of alcoholism.
- Knowing and understanding the genes involved with an increased risk of AUD can help researchers match specific treatments to certain genes.
Genes and Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment
Gene research helps scientists explore how to treat alcohol addiction best. Research shows having specific variations in your genes means that you may respond well when prescribed certain medications and treatments while others won’t. Understanding these patterns can help doctors and behavioral health experts provide personalized care based on what they know about each person’s genes, body, and circumstances.
You Are More Than Your Genetic Makeup
Alcoholism is a complex disease influenced by many factors, including genes; however, you are not your genes. You have the power to take control of your life and seek help if you are struggling with alcohol addiction. Our team at Meta Addiction Treatment understands what you are going through and can help you overcome it. Let us help support your recovery journey.
Contact us today to learn more about our recovery community and flexible addiction treatment programs.