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Alcoholism, Genetics & Family History

alcohol and genetics

When family members struggle with alcohol misuse, it might lead you to question if alcoholism runs in the family.

Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.

According to National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, scientists have found that there is a 50% chance of being genetically predisposed to alcohol use disorder (AUD), but the specific causes are still unknown and identifying the biological basis for this risk is a vital step in controlling the disease.

Addiction involves several complex risk factors, including:

  • Genetics

  • Family history

  • Current environment

  • Gender

  • Mental health condition

An individual's current environment like life stressors and peer pressure from friends who encourage regular drinking can lead to overindulgence of alcohol.

While men display a higher prevalence for alcoholism, it is women who suffer a much greater risk for alcoholism-associated bodily damage, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Individuals who have mental illnesses, especially depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder are very likely to struggle with co-occurring alcohol use disorder. In some situations, individuals are using substances to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety or depression. The National Library of Medicine estimates roughly 50% of individuals with a substance use disorder are also dual diagnosed with a mental illness.


Research shows that genes are responsible for about half of the risk for AUD. The other half is attributed to environmental factors.

While genetics is a large factor, there isn’t one gene for alcoholism. Multiple genes play a role in a person’s risk for developing AUD.

Research published in the National Library of Medicine shows the genes with the clearest contribution to the risk for alcoholism are the two genes central to metabolism of alcohol - ADH1B and ALDH2. Some people of Asian descent carry a gene variant that alters their rate of alcohol metabolism, causing them to have symptoms like flushing, nausea, and rapid heartbeat when they drink. Many people who experience these effects avoid alcohol, thus protecting them from developing AUD.

There are several other genes that have been shown to contribute to the risk of alcohol dependence as well: GABRA2, CHRM2, KCNJ6, and AUTS2.

In the growing understanding of the role genes play in our health, it has consistently been shown that alcohol dependence is highly genetic. But while genetics may increase your risk of alcoholism, it doesn’t mean it’s destined.

Family History And Addiction Risk

When most people think about family history, they immediately think about genetics. However, other factors outside of genetics are important when looking at family history:

  • Childhood trauma. There’s a strong connection between exposure to traumatic events and substance abuse, reports The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Experiencing trauma associated with addiction does not deter most people from using drugs and alcohol; it teaches them that drugs and alcohol are the only ways to cope.

  • Easy access to a substance. Studies show that availability and exposure to substances in the home at an early age can drive future use.

  • Mental health issues. The presence of family dysfunction such as aggression or conflicts may lead to mental health issues and substance abuse disorders

Getting Help For Addiction

If you or somebody in your life seems to have an issue with alcohol, or is suffering from relapse after treatment, professional help may be the best option to help continue on the road to recovery.

At Care Addiction Center, we offer treatment plans that address every facet of your addiction, serving individuals in Geneva, Batavia, Sycamore, St. Charles, and Kane County, with online addiction treatment available anywhere in Illinois. 

To get started on the road to recovery, or if you have questions about helping yourself or a loved one, call us today or schedule a confidential assessment online and begin treatment.


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