Is There a Genetic Predisposition for Alcoholism?
Many people wonder if there is an alcoholism gene that automatically gets passed from generation to generation and determines whether people will drink in an unhealthy way.
It’s true that certain genes do make some people more vulnerable to excessive alcohol use but it’s also true that not everyone who is at risk for alcoholism will become an alcoholic.
Research clearly shows that there can be a genetic predisposition for alcoholism and that alcohol use disorder (AUD) can run in families, but there are many other factors at play.
Genetics play a role but so does early childhood experience.
Awareness of risk factors can help in understanding alcoholism. People who hail from families where alcoholism is prevalent or in which members have been in alcoholism treatment centers must be vigilant and aware of the possible risks they face due to addiction in their family. But there is growing evidence that childhood trauma, when left untreated, can also impact an individual’s use of alcohol if they turn to the bottle to soothe internal pain.
Some Trauma Is Related to Caregivers With Alcoholism
- Chronic exposure. People who are raised in environments with an alcoholic or drug-addicted parent may be influenced by the behaviors they see in their mother and/or father, and the chaos in their homes that occurs when caregivers constantly drink or take drugs. However, abuse and neglect of any kind can also result in complex trauma in someone’s life.
- Early trauma and traumatic incidents. A child who has a deeply upsetting life experience and no reliable adult to help them through it is at risk for trauma. This is often the case when one or parent is struggling with alcoholism and addiction. In addition to exposure to caregiver addiction, early trauma can include domestic abuse of all kinds and sexual abuse. It could also be loss, natural disaster, accidents and injuries at a young age.
- Attachment trauma. Caregivers who are unable or unavailable to tend to an infant due to alcoholism, addiction or depression can have a lasting impact on the child. Babies who do not get their needs met by caregivers can develop trauma related to attachment to caregivers. This can be carried into adolescence and adulthood, and lead them to unbalanced adult relationships.
Impulse Can Be Inherited
Not everyone born to parents with alcohol use disorder or in a family where relatives have been in alcoholism treatment centers will go on to develop or acquire a drinking problem. In fact, many people exposed to the trauma of growing up around alcoholism will seek a lifestyle in the opposite direction.
Alcoholism does not appear to be something that occurs among people with certain personality traits, but it could be a result of inherited impulsivity. It’s believed that about 30% of impulsivity is genetic. There are many ways to measure impulsivity, but you can see it most clearly in family history. A grandfather may be an alcoholic, a father could be a gambler, and the next generation may have an issue with opioid addiction. In these cases, it comes through the genes as impulsivity, not a specific addiction.
Ultimately, it can be a genetic predisposition, but not a genetic predisposition for alcoholism.