Is Alcoholism Genetic? Examining a History of Alcoholism

Signs of Alcoholism

You’ve probably heard it said one’s DNA is so complicated that it could stretch out to the sun and back 61 times; this is true. Genetics are simple and complex simultaneously, and they determine all of a person’s features. Some examples of these features include traits like eye color, hair color, and behavioral traits such as compassion or aggression. Everything that makes a person themselves comes from their parents. So, is alcoholism genetic in some cases?

It’s a complicated question. Those whose parents have a history of alcoholism are at a higher risk for developing a substance use disorder. That being said, alcoholic tendencies are inherited, but the development of a substance use disorder is influenced by one’s environment. To better understand the correlation between alcoholism and genetics, it’s best to understand what exactly alcoholism is.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is one of the most dangerous forms of substance use disorders and is considered to be an insatiable urge to drink alcohol. The urge is so great that someone with a history of alcoholism might not be able to stop thinking of their next drink (even if they’re in the middle of one). This is the reason health disorders like alcoholism get out of hand quickly. Temptation intensifies, and before you know it, someone’s behavior destroys their life. 

How does alcoholism work though, chemically? The answer is simple. The pleasure center in someone’s brain is triggered when they drink, sending large amounts of dopamine to be sent to the brain. Over a long period of time and frequent use, one’s judgment and desires become manipulated to the point of dissatisfaction. 

Once this occurs, activities or circumstances that used to bring someone joy or pleasure won’t be as fulfilling because the effects of alcohol have clouded their concept of desire. When this happens, drinking becomes a priority for those suffering from an alcohol use disorder. 

How Does Alcoholism Affect the Family Dynamic?

Alcoholism affects the family dynamic in destructive ways. This is because those who abuse alcohol are putting their desire for alcohol ahead of their family’s needs. When alcohol becomes the priority in anyone’s life, neglect emanates. The longer time goes on, the more obvious the neglect becomes. Finances are a huge part of the neglect that comes with alcoholism. 

The reason finances are such an obvious sign of familial neglect is that it’s something tangible to measure. Alcohol is expensive, so it could easily drain an individual’s bank account at the snap of a finger. No cost, however, is greater than that of losing one’s family; alcoholism has the power to tear families apart. This is why recognizing alcoholism is so important. 

Signs of Alcoholism

Is Alcoholism Genetic

Some signs of alcoholism include the following:

  • Financial troubles
  • Constant drunkenness
  • Severe lack of judgment
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness

Can Genes Be Responsible For a History of Alcoholism?

The question isn’t whether or not there’s one gene responsible for alcoholism, because one gene doesn’t; it’s a vast accumulation of genes in someone’s DNA that increases the risk of developing a substance use disorder. The trouble of all of this is identifying the genes responsible, and that’s because it’s not that easy. Each gene in the human DNA plays a specific role in making people who they are, and all of these specific genes work together to make the whole of an individual. There have, however, been studies conducted that show the correlation between certain genes and a history of alcohol abuse.

Behavioral genes can also influence certain alcoholic tendencies. Some of these include the following:

When individuals suffer from a mental illness, they may pose a risk of submitting to alcoholism as a coping mechanism. Either way, mental health disorders, whether hereditary or influenced by one’s environment, sheds some light on genetics and alcoholism.

Am I an Alcoholic?

You may have a chance of developing alcoholism if there is a history of alcoholism in your family. Some individuals have multiple family members who suffer from alcoholism, and this puts them even more at risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. The more blood relatives a person has with a substance use disorder, the more likely it is that he or she will suffer the same fate.

All of this, however, isn’t to say that those who are susceptible to it become alcoholics. Genetics and DNA aren’t exactly something a person chooses. While it isn’t fair that some of us may wind up with more susceptible genes, it doesn’t mean we cannot fight it. Some of the best ways to do so include the following:

  • Being aware of family history
  • Healthy friendships
  • Healthy relationships
  • Consistency in friendships
  • Attend therapy and counseling
  • Educate yourself on addiction

Is Alcoholism Genetic? Let’s Look at Nature vs. Nurture

How Does Alcoholism Affect the Family Dynamic?

When it comes to alcoholism, there are a vast number of different factors; it’s not just genetics—it’s also the environment. This could mean relationships, stress, work, hobbies, or anything else surrounding a person that influences alcoholism.

Nature and nurture—the two work together to forge the foundations of one’s decision-making process. For example, some individuals suffer from major depressive disorder, making it difficult to cope with certain aspects of their lives. As a result, they may turn to alcohol to cope. The same is true for those who suffer from anxiety disorders; they’ll use alcohol as a coping mechanism to calm them down.

Furthermore, those who are genetically more susceptible to a history of alcohol abuse still have to be motivated by non-genetic factors to drink excessively. These are referred to as catalysts, something that precipitates an event. These catalysts are typically environmental factors.

Risk Factors of Alcoholism

Naturally, the more at risk someone has in relation to the factors of alcoholism, the greater the chance is that he or she will eventually suffer from a substance use disorder. Just as this is the case, some factors reduce someone’s risk of developing a substance use disorder. 

Some risk factors of potential alcoholism include the following:

  • Aggression 
  • Lack of parental supervision
  • Social anxiety
  • Social awkwardness
  • Substance experimentation
  • Proximity to substances

Some factors that may reduce a person’s risk of developing substance use disorder include the following:

  • Self-control
  • Moral support
  • Familial support
  • Friend support
  • Resources for prevention of alcoholism
  • Therapy

For those who are at risk genetically, some risk factors include the following:

  • Proximity to drugs or alcohol
  • Experiencing abuse
  • Peer pressure
  • Experiencing a traumatic event

Treatment Options for Alcoholism

Genetics determine all of a person’s traits

Some addiction treatment services include the following:

  • Inpatient treatment
  • Outpatient treatment
  • Medically-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Therapy

It’s imperative that those seeking help educate themselves on the different treatment options available for alcoholism. This is because individualized treatment is imperative to a successful recovery experience. At Harmony Ridge Recovery Center, individualized treatment is our utmost concern. 

Inpatient Treatment

Lasting anywhere between 28 days and six months, inpatient residential treatment is a method of care in which an individual stays in an addiction treatment facility 24/7. This gives an individual access to medical professionals all day and all night. This kind of professional treatment also allows an individual weekly (sometimes daily) access to professional therapists and psychiatrists. Residential treatment is meant for those who suffer from severe forms of substance use disorder. 

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is meant for those who suffer from milder forms of substance abuse. This form of care is perhaps the most convenient of all of them; it allows individuals to reside in the comfort of their own homes, work at their jobs, and attend treatment at their convenience in some cases. However, this depends on the intensity of the type of outpatient program.

Medically Assisted Treatment

When someone detoxes from alcohol, they could experience the following:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating 

Alcoholism is extremely difficult to kick, but it’s very common in the case of those who have been abusing alcohol for a while. This is because alcohol withdrawal is extremely uncomfortable and can get intense. When alcohol abuse is all a person has known for the better part of even as little as a few months, the body becomes dependent. Medically assisted detox exists to curb those withdrawal symptoms with medicine.


Therapy is another great method to use in treatment. This form of care allows individuals to evaluate their past and present in a healthy way when it comes to alcoholism. The goal is to help an individual shift their perspective when it comes to alcoholism. Therapy aims to help those who feel as though they need alcohol to cope to develop self-control.

You Aren’t Your History of Alcoholism 

Alcoholism is a scary health condition to deal with; whether it’s genetic or circumstantial, it’s difficult to overcome. That’s why at Harmony Ridge, we specialize in individualized treatment. This is a priority to us because we know there’s no one-size-fits-all method to addiction treatment. What works for one individual may not work for another. 

It’s imperative to us that if you’re suffering from alcoholism that you don’t fight it alone. There are people in your corner who want to help you or your loved one through this time of uncertainty. If you’d like to find out more, you can contact us here

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