Alcohol & Genetics

 Is Alcohol Addiction Genetic?

Alcoholism is a chronic relapsing disease characterized by an inability to control how much or how frequently one drinks. Alcohol dependency and alcohol abuse are two different issues.

An alcohol-dependent person must drink to maintain “normal” feelings. On the other hand, an alcohol-abusive person drinks to excess frequently, but does not need alcohol to feel normal. A person who drinks large amounts of alcohol regularly may meet the definition of abuse, but not dependency.

Abusive behavior continues even when the consequences of alcoholism are obvious. Job loss, failed relationships, financial troubles and legal problems — these often aren’t enough to convince someone a problem exists. Even those for whom alcoholism runs in the family are often unable to recognize and stop this life-threatening disorder.

Is Alcohol Addiction Hereditary?

For many years addiction experts were unable to answer this question. Whether people develop alcoholism because it is a genetic trait, or they learn the behavior by watching a loved one drink, was unclear. Early studies were inconclusive, but researchers who began studying alcoholism in twins soon learned the answer.

Identical twins — who share identical genes and are more likely to develop the same disorders — suffer from alcoholism at the same rate when they are related to an alcoholic. Fraternal twins — who are born at the same time but only share half of each other’s genetic material — often differ in their susceptibility to alcoholism.

Further proving that alcoholism has a genetic component are studies of adopted children who later develop alcoholism. Children who have alcoholic biological parents but grow up in a nonalcoholic household are still more likely to develop alcoholism themselves.

What Is the Genetic Connection of Alcoholism?

Although anyone can become an alcoholic, alcohol addiction is about 50 percent hereditary. That means people who are related to an alcoholic are more likely to develop alcoholism if they begin drinking heavily than those who live with purely environmental exposure.

These individuals, it seems, are simply more susceptible to alcoholism. Science has yet to understand the precise biological reasons why some people develop alcoholism when others with a genetic link do not. It is important to note that chronic heavy drinking can cause alcoholism even in those who do not have a genetic link to addiction.

Regardless of family linkage, however, people who develop alcoholism suffer damage to the brain’s chemical pathways that relate to pleasure, control and stress. Because alcoholism also negatively affects executive functions, such as memory and learning, it is extremely difficult to quit alcoholic behavior once a pattern has been established.

Could a Single Gene Be Responsible for Excessive Drinking?

Over the past decade advancements in technology have made detailed gene study and analysis possible. Although the most likely explanation for alcoholism appears to be a complex blend of multiple factors — genes, alcohol availability and environmental issues — it now appears there may also be a gene that regulates alcohol consumption. Research suggests that when this gene is damaged, the ability to limit alcohol consumption is inhibited.

Scientists from five British universities studied two groups of mice, one normal and the other with the faulty alcohol-regulating gene. The results, which were published in the journal Nature Communications, showed that although the normal group overwhelmingly preferred water to alcohol, the faulty gene group drank alcohol over water an astonishing 85 percent of the time.

While humans do not share the same genetic code as mice, the results are an important step forward as science looks to cure this damaging and sometimes deadly disease. If the same link is established in humans, it could offer hope to those currently suffering as well as those who are susceptible to alcoholism.

Quitting Drinking

Just because a person demonstrates a genetic susceptibility to alcoholism doesn’t mean he or she can’t quit drinking. At 12 Keys Rehab we help people who have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism recover every day.

You’ll learn how to avoid the situations and people that lead to using while gaining the tools you need to handle stressors that can trigger drinking. By engaging in fun activities, you’ll also find that sober living is fun and fulfilling.

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