IS ALCOHOLISM GENETIC?
Discover the part that genetics plays in the development of a person’s drinking problem.
One of the biggest questions surrounding alcohol use disorder and alcohol addiction research is, “What causes alcoholism?” Researchers aim to understand the source of thoughts and behaviors that lead to alcoholism and drug addiction. Understanding the causes of these destructive disorders may help them put a dent in the soaring substance abuse statistics.
Parents are often the first place you look when asking what caused someone’s alcoholism. It often seems alcohol abuse runs in families and if someone is an alcoholic you might expect to see an alcoholic parent or two. This leads to the next logical question: “Is alcoholism genetic?”
There is still no simple yes or no answer to that question. Alcoholism officially called alcohol use disorder (AUD) by medical professionals, is a complex issue. Researchers have yet to find a solitary cause or source of alcoholic and addictive behaviors. There are too many factors at play to trace a person’s addiction back to a single factor.
The better question to ask is, “What role do genetics play in someone developing alcoholism?” This takes into account the dozens of other potential influences on the person’s actions. How much impact do genetics have on a person’s tendency to abuse alcohol? Continue reading to find out just how much researchers attribute alcohol use disorder to genetics.
LOOKING AT THE CAUSES OF ALCOHOLISM
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism conducts extensive research in this area. Researchers and physicians know the closer they get to the cause, the greater their chances of interrupting the usual path to alcoholism. However, they’ve only identified a variety of factors that influence a person’s alcohol intake.
WHAT IS ALCOHOL USE DISORDER (AUD)?
In order to understand the causes of alcoholism, you need to first understand the difference between alcoholism and alcohol abuse. The technical term for alcoholism is alcohol use disorder or AUD. You won’t usually hear a physician refer to someone as an alcoholic but they’ll instead say the person has an AUD.
Alcohol use disorder describes a serious and progressive pattern of unhealthy and disordered drinking. It’s easy to confuse someone who abuses alcohol with someone who has an AUD. Both drink large quantities of alcohol on a somewhat regular basis. The difference is people who abuse alcohol still put it down at some point but people with an AUD do not.
One of the defining factors of alcohol use disorder is the seemingly compulsive need to drink. People with an AUD don’t drink because they want to have a good time, they drink because they can’t drink. After some time it becomes their only solution and they don’t know how else to cope with their day but once they develop a physical dependence it’s game over.
HOW DOES SOMEONE BECOME AN ALCOHOLIC?
Again, you’ve likely heard before or noticed for yourself that alcoholism seems to run in families. When someone has a parent with an alcohol or drug problem, you assume that person is more likely to develop one at some point. Does this prediction hold any real weight?
DO GENETICS AFFECT ALCOHOLISM?
Researchers are deeply interested in finding an answer to this question. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) funds the Collaborative Studies on Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA). NIAAA founded COGA in 1989 to study and collect data on families affected by alcoholism. They aim to better understand the genetic components of AUD.
Their current research reveals that genetics hold about half the responsibility for a person’s alcohol addiction. You might have heard of the concept of the “alcoholism gene,” or the search for a single gene that causes the disorder. Research shows this isn’t correct, though.
Instead, a variety of genes play a role in someone developing alcoholism. They don’t cause alcoholism exactly. Instead, certain variations in some people’s genetic makeup put them more at risk of ending up with a drinking problem.
WHAT ELSE AFFECTS THE DEVELOPMENT OF ALCOHOL USE DISORDER?
Since genetics take up half the responsibility of someone developing alcoholism, what takes up the other half? Environment. The environment a person grows up in also plays a role in whether or not they end up a problem drinker. These factors consist of a wide range of external circumstances including:
- Type of home a person grows up in
- Living with a parent, sibling, or another family member who has a drinking problem
- The area someone is raised in
- Friends a person spends time with
- How readily available alcohol and other drugs are
These are only some of the many environmental factors at play in someone developing alcoholism. Again, just like genetics, no single environmental factor causes or doesn’t cause a drinking problem. They simply have a part in the equation of whether or not someone ends up with an alcohol use disorder.
SEEKING TREATMENT FOR ALCOHOLISM
Thankfully there is a wide range of alcoholism treatment centers available. Hawaii Island Recovery, located on the big island of Hawaii, offers a wide range of treatment methods to help anyone who may come through the door. Through a combination of traditional methods and holistic practices, Hawaii Island Recovery provides a well-rounded approach to treatment. Call our admissions office at 877-721-3556 to learn more today!