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Genetics of Alcoholism

    Genetics of Alcoholism

    One of the most famous and long-running debates in psychology is to what extent our personalities are determined by our genetics or our environmental influences.

    This is often framed as the ‘nature vs nurture’ debate.

    Some things are solely determined entirely by our genetics, such as eye colour.

    On the other hand, our weight is largely determined by environmental factors like what we know about nutrition, what choose to eat, and how we choose to exercise.

    Not every aspect of who we are is as clear cut as this, and sometimes our genes and environment interact together to shape who we are in more complicated ways.

    Some research has considered the extent to which our genetics impact the likelihood that we will experience addiction and specifically alcoholism.

    The Genetics Of Alcoholism

    Do I have an alcohol problem?

    Alcoholism is a complicated, stigmatised and dangerous addiction.

    Some people suffer from addiction to alcohol without even realising it, while others – sometimes referred to as high-functioning alcoholics – can seem to live normal lives while simultaneously living with alcoholism.

    The reasons why someone develops an addiction to alcohol varies from person to person.

    However, acknowledging the influence of our environment and genetics on our lives, it is reasonable to ask whether or not alcoholism can be hereditary.

    Family History

    Research has shown that people with a family history of alcohol abuse and addiction are more likely to develop alcoholism themselves.

    On a surface level, this might make it look clear that alcoholism can be hereditary.

    However, the reality isn’t that simple.

    Specific Genes


    The latest research has discovered that there are certain variants of genes which we can inherit that make an addiction to alcohol more likely.

    For example, people who inherit and carry the ADH1B gene (which is linked with a slower alcohol metabolism rate) are more likely to develop alcoholism than people who don’t carry that variant of the gene.

    This research shouldn’t be misinterpreted as stating that it is possible to inherit alcoholism – just like our weight, whether or not we develop an addiction is ultimately a result of our choices.

    Nevertheless, the research does show that certain people, who carry certain genes, are more at risk of developing alcoholism than others.

    Less Direct Influences

    Other genetic factors can also influence the development of alcoholism less directly.

    Some people’s personalities can lead them to becoming addicted to drugs, gambling, sex, and alcohol.

    It is widely accepted by psychologists that our genetics impact our personalities to some extent, and this can include whether or not someone has a more addictive personality.

    Can You Inherit Alcoholism?


    While our genes clearly impact who we are, and the development of alcoholism, they aren’t the be-all and end-all.

    The genetics of alcoholism might make a person more likely to develop the addiction, but it isn’t set in stone.

    Our choices and actions still play a large role, and many people with a family history of addiction and alcohol abuse go on to live healthy lives, free from alcoholism.

    This doesn’t mean we should ignore genetic factors.

    If you are more at risk of alcohol addiction because of your family history and your genes, you may want to treat alcohol with more caution and take steps to avoid excessive consumption.

    While we can inherit genes which leave us more vulnerable to alcoholism, to say that it is possible to inherit alcoholism would be too reductive and would ignore scientific research.

    Other Factors Impacting The Development Of Alcoholism

    Of course, your genetics aren’t the only factors which determine whether or not you are more or less likely to develop an addiction to alcohol.

    In fact, your past and present environment may also play a significant role in alcoholism.

    Psychological research has shown that various environmental pressures can instigate addictions, including alcoholism.

    For example, if you find your work or social life to be very stressful you may start to alleviate that stress through the casual use of alcohol.

    This type of alcohol use can quickly develop into a dependency or addiction when it becomes a crutch used to help you navigate through your current problems.

    This is an example of when your environment could lead to alcoholism, rather than your genetics.

    Child sad

    Other ways in which your environment could influence your likelihood to develop alcoholism include your past and your childhood.

    If you are a person who has experienced childhood trauma, for example, you may be more susceptible to developing alcoholism.

    This also extends to your current environmental influences, such as whether or not your social circle uses drugs or consumes excessive amounts of alcohol and your financial situation.

    How To Take Precautions To Avoid Developing Alcoholism

    If you are concerned about your chances of developing an addiction to alcohol -because of your genetics, environment or a combination of the two- you might want to consider taking some precautionary steps.

    Monitoring and keeping track of your alcohol intake is a good place to start

    Often, by keeping track of your units, you will notice that you are actually drinking far more than your realised, and possibly beyond what is recommended by health guidelines.

    This realisation can act as a starting point for change and can kickstart your journey to begin consuming alcohol in a more conscious way, or even your first steps towards abstinence.

    Therapist and patient

    Another way to address your concerns is to disclose them to someone close to you.

    By talking about your worries over alcohol and alcoholism with someone you trust, they can act as a safeguard and help guide you towards making better decisions.

    If you believe you already have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, even if you don’t think that you’re addicted, you should think about reaching out for professional support.

    An unhealthy relationship with alcohol can quickly spiral out of your control and become a much deeper problem.

    Professional support can assist you with the development of avoidance and coping strategies and can help you begin to make behavioural changes.

    An Overview Of The Genetics Of Alcoholism


    Alcoholism is a serious addiction, which can be highly damaging and destructive to your life and the lives of those around you.

    For this reason, it is important to understand the causes of the addiction, and why it manifests in some people and not others.

    Is it possible for a person to inherit alcoholism? Unfortunately for people looking for easy answers, it isn’t as simple as that.

    The most current research on the topic of the genetics of alcoholism does strongly indicate that you can inherit a susceptibility to alcohol addiction, and therefore alcoholism.

    But people are also influenced by non-genetic environmental factors and these can sometimes be what contributes to alcoholism rather than your genetics.

    Neither your genetic nor your environmental influences can say for certain whether or not you will develop an addiction to alcohol.

    Ultimately, this will be a result of your relationship with the substance and the choices you make.

    Getting Help

    Man with phone

    If you do have a family history of alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and excessive drinking, you should be especially careful around alcohol and be conscious of your alcohol intake.

    You might also want to speak to a professional about your situation and seek their support if you feel like you’re at imminent risk of developing an addiction to alcohol.

    If you want the best advice for avoiding or beating an alcohol addiction, our team is ready and waiting for you.

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