Are criminality and alcoholism inherited? A common question, but also a really complex one. There are elements of both criminality and alcoholism that are, in some ways, inherited, but that doesn’t tell the full story.
It’s complicated to see how criminality and alcoholism are intertwined with one another, and their genetic components. The following may not give a definitive answer because there isn’t necessarily one, but it does shed some light onto whether or not criminality and alcoholism are inherited.
Much research over the years has been dedicated to uncovering whether or not it’s a person’s genetic makeup that determines whether they’re a criminal, their environment, or a combination of both. Right now the best evidence points to a combination of both.
If you’re genetically predisposed to illegal behavior, let’s say because your dad is a criminal, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to absolutely also engage in criminality. If your environment also predisposes you to these actions, you’re at a higher risk than genetics alone, but genetics do play some role in many cases.
What’s been found when looking at topics such as are criminality and alcoholism inherited is the fact that a lot of criminality is inheritable in the sense that it’s related to mental illness and mental health disorders. If you were to visit a prison anywhere in the U.S., you would likely see that there are a lot of underlying psychological disorders. These psychological disorders are often genetic.
However, the environment is also a key part of the puzzle as you answer are criminality and alcoholism inherited. Studies of people’s early family lives have shown that even if someone is genetically predisposed toward criminality, this can be changed based on their environment, and vice versa.
Something that’s relevant is the discussion of neurochemicals, which are genetic characteristics and they do drive behavior patterns. For example, MAO is an enzyme that is related to antisocial behavior, so low MAO activity can lead to impulsiveness and aggression.
Serotonin plays an important role in many personality traits that can be linked not only to criminality but also alcoholism such as depression and anxiety. Serotonin is involved in impulsive aggression, and often when there are behavioral problems in a person, they tend also to have low levels of serotonin in their blood.
Another neurotransmitter is dopamine, and it controls how we experience reward and pleasure.
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It’s a very similar situation, at least as researchers see it right now. Alcoholism is genetic in some ways, because of the reasons that criminality is inherited. For example, children of alcoholics may have lower levels of certain neurotransmitters that leave them more genetically predisposed to themselves struggle with substance abuse.
This doesn’t mean there’s one gene or one set of genes that are passed down and say “you are a criminal,” or “you are an alcoholic.”
Instead, it’s more that there are certain genetic features that may increase a person’s chances of being either or both and these can be passed down through generations.
For example, in 2008 the Pew Center reported that one in every 100 U.S. adults was in prison, and the vast majority of these crimes involved alcohol.
Surveys have shown that 36% of people under correctional supervision were drinking when they committed their offense, and 40% of state prisoners who were convicted of a violent crime was under the influence of alcohol when it happened. Also, the more violent the crime, the higher the chances alcohol was involved.
So, to sum up, are criminality and alcoholism inherited?
In short, the answer is maybe. Genetics may factor into both criminality and alcoholism, but it’s not as clear-cut as it may seem. Even if you have a parent who is a criminal and alcoholic, but as an example, you’re adopted and raised in a stable, healthy household, your chances of also exhibiting those behaviors go down.
Just because you have a close family member who has a history of criminality and alcoholism doesn’t mean you’ll have the same fate, despite the genetic relationships.