The excessive consumption of alcohol has contributed to numerous physical, social, and psychological problems in many individuals. Alcoholism and dependency are resultant conditions that cause serious health issues such as heart problems, kidney diseases, cancers, cirrhosis, liver failure, and other severe life-threatening issues.
Alcoholism is also one of the number one causes of road accidents in the United States. The excessive use of alcohol while driving is an offense that has consistently contributed to the loss of lives and properties on the road. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates a total of 2.5 million alcohol-related deaths annually, which is 4% of deaths globally. Alcoholism accounts for 6.2% of all male diseases.
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is also a contributing factor to crime, violence, sexual abuse, domestic violence, and suicide. A report suggests that 18 million adults in the US are struggling with AUD, this is equivalent to one person in every 12 individuals. What are the underlying causes of alcoholism? Is there a genetic connection to alcohol use disorder?
Table of Contents
- Is Alcoholism Influenced By Genetics?
- Is Alcohol Addiction Hereditary?
- Ways Genetics May Increase Risk Of Alcoholism
- Environmental Factors That Cause Alcoholism
- How To Prevent The Development Of Alcoholism
Is Alcoholism Influenced By Genetics?
A study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) showed that genetics contributes 40-60 % of the factors that influence alcoholism in an individual. The inference is that individuals from families with a history of alcohol dependence have a 50% chance of developing this condition at any stage in life, while those without a family drinking history have little to no genetic influence.
Is Alcohol Addiction Hereditary?
Genetics and heredity are often used interchangeably but are not exactly the same. What is the difference between a genetic condition and one that is hereditary? A condition can be genetic when it stands as an abnormality in the genome while a hereditary condition or disease is a genetic mutation that can be transferred from parents to offspring.
The question is this, is alcoholism hereditary? Researchers have conducted studies which affirm that alcoholism may be hereditary, this means that the disorder is a mutation in the gene and can be passed down from parents to their children. Individuals with parents who are struggling with alcohol addiction are 2/4 times more likely to find themselves in an alcohol addiction later in life. This possibility is also dependent on other factors such as upbringing, societal influence or environment, experiences, lifestyle, and others. There are ways in which genetics can increase the risk of one becoming an alcoholic later in life. Let’s take a look at some of them:
Ways Genetics May Increase Risk Of Alcoholism
Every individual differs in one way or another, however, there are characteristics that may be passed down from parents to offspring that may increase their vulnerability to alcoholism, and these include:
1. Serotonin Levels
Abnormally high levels of serotonin in a person’s brain may be attributed to a genetic predisposition to excessive use of alcohol.
2. Absence Of Warning Signs
A person with a genetic history of alcoholism may process alcohol differently. The warning signs signaling an excess of alcohol may be lacking or absent in these individuals, therefore they are able to tolerate larger volumes of alcohol than regular persons.
3. Smaller Brain Parts
Studies have shown that those who are predisposed to alcohol abuse have a smaller brain part, specifically the Amygdala. Amygdalas is a part of the human brain that is alleged to be closely linked to emotions and cravings.
4. Vulnerability To Mental Disorder
Researchers believe that mental illnesses are linked to the genes. A person who is diagnosed with a mental health disorder has a high risk of becoming an alcoholic. This is because alcohol is a depressant and has its effect on the CNS.
There is no specified gene that is responsible for addiction or puts a person at risk of becoming dependent to alcohol. It is mostly the collective effort of various genes. A person’s response to these genes is determined by their immediate environment.
Environmental Factors That Cause Alcoholism
Genetics contribute to half the risk of developing an alcohol problem. Environmental risks also play a key role. Essentially, environmental factors are considered to be even more influential since it largely constitutes all the experiences that forge the individual’s character from birth to adulthood. Here are some environmental factors that expose an individual to alcoholism.
1. Early Exposures To Illicit Drugs
In many regions around the world young children are exposed to illicit drugs and alcohol by their peers in school and on the streets. Teens begin to use alcohol at a very early age due to easy access to stores and in parties.
The lack of resources is a major determinant of behavior. The misuse of drugs and alcohol is most prevalent in places of low income. There is a large distribution of illicit substances in these areas, putting more people at risk of forming a drinking habit.
3. No Parental Supervision
One of the most fundamental aspects of human development is their upbringing. When there are no responsible guardians to educate and supervise children, they may end up engaging in all sorts of illegal and harmful activities, one of which alcoholism is always highest on the list.
4. Childhood Trauma And Abuse
Individuals with a traumatic childhood memory often seek solace from places, people, and substances that allow them to manage their emotions or to feel better about themselves. Most people often turn to alcohol to numb the pains of emotional trauma. This may lead to alcoholism as they continue to build a tolerance to the substance.
For males, the number one cause of alcoholism is peer pressure, the need to develop a high social status. This often begins in the teenage years and the need to blend into the societal norm may cause youths to engage in illicit drinking.
These environmental factors come with varying consequences such as moving with the wrong crowd, doing badly in school studies or dropping out of school, traumatic sexual experiences, addiction to alcohol and drugs, violence and aggression, running with the law, crime and incarceration, and other issues that closely accompany alcoholism. The more environmental factors a person is exposed to, the higher the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.
How To Prevent The Development Of Alcoholism
Alcoholism is extremely common and the risk of getting involved in frequent drinking, especially as a teen, is often very high. It is even worse if close relatives have an alcohol addiction. However, it is important to understand that having a genetic predisposition for alcohol does not mean that the individual is bound to become an alcoholic. In many cases, environmental factors play a much larger role in a person’s life than genetic inclination.
There are simple ways to ensure that one is unaffected by genetics as well as environmental factors. Here are ways to prevent alcohol use disorder:
- Understanding your genetic predisposition and family history of alcoholism in order to be able to make informed decisions
- Learning about the symptoms of alcoholism and taking necessary actions to avoid unethical and excessive use of alcohol
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, relationships, and eating healthy
- Developing multiple stress management strategies and techniques that do not include the use of drugs and alcohol
- Limiting the intake of alcohol especially at events or avoiding it completely
Genetics plays a major role in alcoholism and it is possible that one could inherit certain alcohol predispositions; however, alcohol use disorder can be avoided by living a healthy lifestyle. If you feel that you may be developing an alcohol use disorder, it is best to see a physician immediately in order to understand its route and to get adequate treatment.