genetics

Is Alcoholism Genetic (Hereditary)?

Due to the prevalence of cases where one or more persons in the same lineage suffer from alcoholism, it is essential to understand how this is possible. Can alcohol addiction run in the family? The genes we inherit are responsible for every part of what makes us who we are as individuals. From our eye color and hair texture, to which foods we enjoy, or even what skills we excel. Within our DNA sequence, there also lies the predisposition for specific behavioral patterns, disease, and even addiction. Alcoholism is not an exception when discussing which characteristics have been acquired from our parents, biological or otherwise. 

Alcoholism is frequently considered a family disease. Because it is so complicated, however, there are many factors to consider when examining the topic. Whether it is passed down through generations, skipping one family member, and moving to the next like many disorders and illnesses, or learned as a pattern of behavior. Of course, there is always the debate of nature versus nurture. Ironically, both may have a role in the outcome of alcoholism. 

The Genes Responsible for Alcoholism

It has been found that there are 11 genetic pairings associated with addiction and mental illness. 

Over the years, scientists and doctors have researched alcoholism to get a better understanding of its influence on genetics. They have studied those who suffer from alcohol use disorder as well as their additional family members that are also affected. It has been found that certain genes have come into question and have were examined more closely. 

Among these genes, addiction, depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety, also fall into this particular group. However, when examining the genetic code further, three specific genes have been found the most prevalent and associated with the risk of genetic predisposition to alcoholism. These are:

  • ADH1B
  • GABRB1
  • Beta-Klotho

As we take a closer look, the information provided by these parts of the DNA structure, allow for further insight as to why alcoholism is genetic, and why it affects everyone differently. 

ADH1B and Genetic Alcohol Abuse

Within our DNA structure, some genes allow the body to break down the toxins we ingest. ADH1B is one of those genes. ADH1B breaks down the alcohol into a component that is responsible for the adverse reactions caused by consuming alcohol. The headache, upset stomach, flushing, and even vomiting are brought upon by this chemical known as acetaldehyde.

The gene ADH1B has two settings, either quickly acting or slow acting. If you are among those that have this gene that works more slowly to break down the alcohol in your body, you are less likely to feel an overload of acetaldehyde in your system. Therefore, you typically do not suffer from the harmful effects. This makes consuming alcohol more tolerable or even more pleasurable. However, if a person’s ADH1B gene is one that moves more quickly, the body will soon overload the amount of acetaldehyde that must be broken down. This leads to the uncomfortable symptoms of alcohol consumption, and a much less enjoyable experience overall. 

When it comes to ADH1B, the more quickly the gene works, the less likely a person is to be genetically linked to alcoholism through heredity. Plain and simple, the slower the gene, the more enjoyable the experience under the influence, the more alcohol will be consumed, and consequently, the risk of alcoholism is increased. 

GABRB1 and Hereditary Alcoholism

GABRB1 has its hand in genetic alcoholism when there is a mutation of the gene. Mutations are not uncommon when it comes to our DNA as human beings. For example, those who have blue eyes or Rh-negative blood types originated from a genetic alteration, as well. Studies revolving around whether alcohol is genetic have found that certain versions of this gene, GABRB1, changes the way GABA is produced and used in the brain. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, known for its effects on easing anxiety and information input, which is manipulated by the intake of alcohol. Those found to have this genetic mutation are more likely to abuse alcohol for its stress-reducing and relaxing properties. Achieving a sense of calm as the goal, ingesting alcohol on more than an occasional basis and can lead to excessive drinking, and in turn, alcohol addiction and dependency.

Beta-Klotho and Alcoholism Through Genetics (Hereditary)

Beta-Klotho, unlike the above-mentioned genes, takes us down a different path altogether. In fact, studies have shown that those who possess this gene are far less likely to be genetically linked to alcoholism. Beta-Klotho works with hormones that involve cravings. Such as having a craving for something sweet, or being a person with a “sweet tooth,” is also originated within our genes that regulate these hormones. The same goes in the case for having (or not having) the craving for a cocktail. A person that does not have this gene is more likely to be predisposed to alcoholism, simply by the lack of restraint that is found among those that do carry the Beta-Klotho gene. Beta-Klotho act as a resistant. So, generally speaking, those that have inherited this gene are more likely to be able to have one or two drinks and then stop or even be able to resist the urge to drink alcohol at all. 

Science has been able to prove that some genetic markers are hereditary within a family tree and are common among those that abuse alcohol. However, it would be remiss to conclude that every person who is born with this genetic makeup is destined to become an alcoholic. There are indeed other factors that can contribute to alcohol abuse running in families that have been associated with or without these genes contributed to us by our ancestors. 

Environmental Influence on Alcoholism 

Growing up in an environment where one or more parents suffer from alcohol abuse can be challenging and can be considered a predisposition to alcoholism as well. Taking into consideration the stress, verbal abuse, or even violence that comes from having an alcoholic parent or guardian can make day to day life very unpredictable. Such instability in a household can lead to chronic stress that flows over into adulthood. 

Additionally, it is important to consider the example that is being set for any child being raised or surrounded by someone suffering from alcohol addiction. Though not all genes are passed down from parent to child, excessive alcohol use has the potential to become a norm within their life. Through exposure and tolerance of such acts, a sense of “normal” may come to be associated with excessive or daily drinking. This habit may then be reflected in the adult stages of this person’s life, leading to a circle of alcoholism that runs in the family. 

Growing Up in an Alcoholic Family

Some individuals that have been raised in a household where alcoholism was a struggle have come forward about the hardships they now face today. Most have claimed that the effects of their environment during their upbringing influenced their lives only after reaching the ages of adulthood. Some have completed alcohol detox programs and rehab treatment, and have found their way to a meaningful life through recovery management. From sexual abuse, pressure from their peers, or the easy access to substances, alcohol, or the alcoholic in their lives, had made its mark. However, they spoke about the emotional trauma and mental illness that has stemmed from a parent or guardian being addicted to alcohol. These adults now claim to battle daily with: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Lacking trust for others
  • Personal battles with addiction
  • Difficulty understanding the world around them
  • Lack of self-control
  • Paranoia or excessive over planning
  • Restricted emotions
  • Misdirected anger
  • Difficulty communicating effectively
  • Irrational (or lack of) emotional response

Regardless of whether or not the people raised in a household with an alcoholic, have come to have an addiction to alcohol themselves, there is still an emotional toll they are paying. Alcoholism, through genetics, environment, or experience, affects all of those around them and permanently impacts the lives of the ones they love. It is important to get the help you need. 

Genetics (Hereditary), Environment and The Exceptions of Alcoholism 

It is important to note that not everyone that is environmentally or genetically predisposed to alcoholism will become an alcoholic themselves. Even those that have inherited the traits of alcohol addiction through their genetic family tree have been able to resist or recover from their addiction through practice or rehabilitation. Those that are aware of the fact that they do have the inherited genes of alcoholism socialize themselves in a way where alcohol is not a temptation. Choosing to abstain from drinking altogether has prevented them from becoming alcoholics themselves. Others that carry the genetic markers for addiction have grown to be responsible drinkers, and have not fallen victim to the indicators in their DNA. However, studies have confirmed that 50% of those that carry the alcoholism genes do indeed suffer from alcoholism. 

Treatment For Genetic (Hereditary) Alcoholism

If you are suffering from alcohol addiction, due to genetics, the environment, or otherwise, rehabilitation and recovery are not hopeless. Coastal Detox has the treatment resources to provide you with specialized programs and detox facilities led by educated staff and medical professionals who understand your struggle with alcoholism. Taking control of your life can start as soon as today. If you or someone close to you is suffering from alcohol abuse and addiction, reach out for help by calling (877)406-6623 to get the answers and support, leading to a future free from the hold of addiction. Genetics aside, overcoming the battle with alcoholism is possible, and we’re here to help. 

Content Reviewed by Jacklyn Steward

Jacklyn StewardJacklyn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and an EMDR trained trauma therapy specialist with over 6 years of experience in the field of addiction. She has a Masters Degree in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling from Nova Southeastern University.