Is Alcoholism Hereditary?

Is There an Alcoholic Gene?

Alcohol is a dangerous substances because of its addictive qualities and difficult withdrawal process. It is a legal and easily accessible substance, increasing the exposure of alcoholism in families and social circles.
It is common for frequent exposure to alcohol and other substances to influence dependency. In fact, exposure can double the risk of dependency and use, especially in a familial setting. However, scientists argue genetics play a significant role in the frequency of alcoholism and the likelihood of hereditary effects. But do genetics really link to alcoholism?

Alcohol use disorder — or alcohol dependency — is an illness characterized by the inability to control excessive drinking. Alcohol is a highly addictive substance that can cause harmful long-term effects on the body and the mind. It affects how a person thinks, feels and acts. Those suffering from this disease crave to escape or relax from stress-filled days, turning an occasional release into a necessary occurrence to feel good, increase positivity and to feel accepted amongst peers.  

Early stages of alcohol abuse set the foundation for dependency. In the beginning, an individual may notice an increase in drinking to subdue negative feelings. That soon spirals into a dependency affecting job performance, daily routines and behaviors. Dependence occurs when a user needs to consume alcohol to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea and tremors.

Like abusing any substance in excess, alcohol abuse can result in a long list of negative side effects and behaviors including:

  • Inability to limit alcohol consumption
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver damage
  • Increased risk of cancer

In addition, severe alcohol dependency leads to a battle with withdrawal, a series of physical and emotional strains users experience after the abrupt removal of a substance from their daily routine. Dependency affects the body and the brain, so much that the brain also begins to crave alcohol to function normally. Deviation or withdrawal from alcohol can cause serious and sometimes fatal consequences including:

  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Seizures
  • Insomnia
Genetics help to determine our traits, behaviors and personality characteristics. Some of these traits are passed down from parents to their children. With that being the case, it is entirely possible for families with a history of alcoholism to pass down those tendencies to later generations. Genetics, in combination with social and environmental factors, strongly influence alcohol dependency.

There have been many studies showing there are genetic factors influencing alcoholism, specifically as it relates to children of suffering alcoholics. These studies show children from families with alcohol abusers are twice as likely as the general population to suffer from alcohol-related issues.

However, there isn’t a specific alcoholic gene that appears in a person’s DNA. Instead there are behavioral genes that influence a predisposition to alcoholism, including mental illnesses. Also, different combination of genes influence the level of alcohol consumption.

People often wonder if alcoholism is hereditary or genetic. It’s important to know the difference because the two terms are not the same.

Genetics refers to a person’s DNA. A condition that is genetic can also be hereditary, but there will always be a mutation in the genome. Heredity refers to a mutation in a person’s genes passed from generation to generation. Common hereditary mental illnesses are autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression.

As it relates to alcoholism, genes are half responsible for alcohol dependency cases. While children of alcoholics are twice as likely to be at risk for alcohol dependency, less than half of them actually struggle with the disease. However, other underlying factors influence the choice to engage in alcohol consumption.

Those who have a history of alcoholism in their families have the highest risk of struggling with this substance. But a family history doesn’t doom a person to excessive drinking. Outside environmental factors are partly responsible for an individual’s choices.

Alcohol is highly addictive, and like many substances, addicts use alcohol to self-medicate. Alcohol creates feelings of happiness and freedom, also referred to as a buzz, which people use to escape from financial woes, stress, family issues and other disappointments. Drinking alcohol is also a social activity and is perceived as a way to fit in, especially while underage. In order to maintain the buzz, people begin to drink more frequently until they are no longer in control. Ultimately this can result in dependency.

On the other hand, family history and environmental choices can help to influence preventative measures against alcoholism. To prevent the chance of becoming addicted to alcohol, consider the following factors:

  • Know Your Family History — If your family is more susceptible to alcoholism, it’s important to know your risks and triggers. Drink in moderation and know your limits.
  • Avoid Underage DrinkingNot only is underage drinking illegal, but it also increases the likelihood of irresponsible drinking and alcohol dependency carrying into adulthood.
  • Seek CounselingIf you struggle with drinking or the decision to drink, it’s recommended that you seek outside help. Licensed counselors can help to provide alternatives to help you avoid temptation.
  • Monitor Social CirclesSurround yourself with like-minded people. If you are not fond of drinking, hang out with people who feel the same as you do.
  • Know the Addiction SymptomsBe mindful of your behaviors if you do choose to drink. Take everything in moderation and understand the effects.
The road to recovery does not have to be a journey taken alone. If you or someone you know is suffering from alcohol abuse, help and resources are available to provide the best treatment to aid in your recovery. The Recovery Village Drug and Alcohol Rehab provides affordable and personalized care and recovery to those looking to combat alcoholism and complete rehabilitation. Consult with our trained staff today to help begin your treatment.
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Dick, Ph.D., D. M., & Agrawai, Ph.D., A. (2008). The Genetics of Alcohol and Other Drug Dependence. Retrieved from

Embogama. (2016, October 4). Difference Between Genetic and Hereditary Diseases. Retrieved from

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2008). Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder. Retrieved from

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2012, June). A Family History of Alcoholism – Are You at Risk? Retrieved from

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