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Is Alcoholism Hereditary? What We Should Know

When it comes to alcoholism, we often look at our parents, grandparents and beyond to decide whether we or our children need to be worried about it. We’re often under the apprehension that alcoholism is hereditary and that if our ancestors never spent time in an alcohol treatment centre, then we won’t either.

But how true is that?

The Facts: Is Alcoholism Hereditary

Studies have shown that there is a genetic component to alcoholism. In fact, researchers have identified several genes that are associated with an increased risk of developing alcohol use disorder. One such gene is the GABRA2 gene, which is involved in the regulation of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is known to play a role in the brain's reward system, which is involved in the pleasurable feelings associated with drinking alcohol. Variations in the GABRA2 gene have been linked to an increased risk of alcoholism.

Another gene that has been linked to alcoholism is the ADH1B gene. This gene is responsible for producing an enzyme that metabolises alcohol in the liver. People with certain variations of the ADH1B gene have been found to experience unpleasant side effects when they drink alcohol, such as flushing, nausea, and rapid heartbeat. This makes them less likely to drink excessively and lowers their risk of developing alcoholism.

Despite the evidence of a genetic component to alcoholism, it is still important to note that genetics alone cannot determine whether or not someone will develop the condition. Environmental factors, such as a person's upbringing, social circle, and experiences with trauma or stress, also play a significant role in the development of alcoholism.

What is also worth noting, is that just because someone has a genetic predisposition to alcoholism, it does not necessarily mean that they will become an alcoholic.

What it does mean though, is that people should be more careful if they do have family who have suffered with addiction to alcohol previously. That means being more conscious of how much they drink, as well as the environment they do surround themselves in.

If they do that, then the chances of also suffering from alcoholism is much slimmer.

How to Find Out Your Family’s History With Alcohol

It is worth exploring your family’s health history and finding out whether you, or a family member do have the genes mentioned above, as this will then allow you or a family member to be more careful with alcohol, although that should be a given anyway - anyone can suffer from addiction.

Additionally, it’s always worth talking to older generations to try and understand what their relationship with alcohol was like to make a conscious decision and ensure you keep the possibility of alcohol addiction as far away as you can.