Is Alcoholism Inherited?

Hereditary Component to Alcoholism

"There is a known hereditary component to alcoholism..."The question of whether alcoholism is inherited or not is a complex one. There is a known hereditary component to alcoholism, but that doesn't mean that someone with an alcoholic family member will definitely become an alcoholic; nor does it mean that all alcoholics have an alcoholic family member.

Genetic, Social and Emotional Factors of Alcoholism

In general, alcoholism is considered a disorder that involves a combination of genetic, social and emotional factors. The hereditary impact involves multiple genes, some of which are yet to be discovered. Some genes seem to have an impact that mixes with social and emotional factors, so people who inherit these genes are only vulnerable if they also have specific environmental factors in their lives as well. Other genes have an even stronger impact on the risk of alcoholism, so people who inherit these genes may be at a much higher risk of alcoholism even when they have no negative environmental factors that are affecting them.

Family Members of Alcoholics At Higher Risk

The complete impact of genetics remains unknown, but scientists know enough to recommend that children, grandchildren, and siblings of alcoholics need to be careful because they are at higher risk of developing alcoholism themselves.

Alcohol Abuse

Family members of an alcoholic are three- to four-fold more likely to develop the disease than people with no alcoholic family members.

Some studies have indicated that family members of an alcoholic are three- to four-fold more likely to develop the disease than people with no alcoholic family members.

One thing behind the connection between alcoholism and heredity may be a predisposition to enjoy alcohol more than other people. People who are closely related to an alcoholic, including brothers, sisters, and children, have a more positive reaction to alcoholic drinks. This may be because they have a gene that makes alcohol use more pleasurable, which could make addiction more likely.

Dopamine and Alcoholism

The brain's dopamine system is also likely to be involved in the development of alcoholism. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that makes people feel pleasure.  People with problems in the dopamine production and use systems are more likely to become addicted to drugs of all kinds, including alcohol. The mechanisms of the dopamine system are still being studied, but there is likely to be a genetic component.

Serotonin and Alcoholics

The production of serotonin, another brain neurotransmitter, is also controlled by genes and could be another factor in the link between alcoholism and heredity. Serotonin influences risk-taking behavior, and could influence people to drink more than is safe, which may lead to alcoholism.

Beta-endorphin and Alcoholism

"Another gene variant that might affect alcoholism is the gene that controls a protein called beta-endorphin."Another gene variant that might affect alcoholism is the gene that controls a protein called beta-endorphin. This protein is produced in the brain to numb pain. People with low levels of beta-endorphin sometimes turn to alcohol to numb physical and emotional pain because the body is not doing the job well enough itself. Many alcoholics have the gene for low beta-endorphin production, and when their children inherit this gene, it raises the risk of developing the disease as well.

Genetic Protection Against Alcoholism

Some people may also have a form of genetic protection against alcoholism. Scientists from the Indiana University School of Medicine found evidence that people with a two specific gene variants were less likely to become alcoholics, even when they drink heavily on a regular basis. These genes are more prevalent in people of Asian descent, specifically people of Japanese and Chinese descent, and almost never present in Caucasians or Native Americans.

Social and Environmental Factors Can Cause Alcoholism

With so many genetic factors involved, it can be tempting to think of alcoholism as a purely genetic disease. However, some people with none of the known genetic factors and no family history of alcoholism still become addicted. This is because the social and environmental factors can be strong enough in some cases to cause alcoholism even though the person is at lower risk genetically. Social pressure, in the form of friends and colleagues who drink heavily, is a big factor in the development of alcoholism. A tendency to view alcohol as a form of stress relief or as a way to become less nervous in social situations can also make alcoholism more likely, even if the genetic influences are minimal.

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