Is Alcohol Use Disorder Genetic?
Someone struggling with an Alcohol Use Disorder will find it difficult to stop drinking alcohol, can’t control how much they drink, and may blackout often.
For young adults, going out and drinking socially with a few friends is a very common thing to do. At times, some of these people have their parents in the back of their minds warning them of the dangers of their actions.
You see, grandpa has struggled with drinking for years, and dad and mom say alcohol use disorder is genetic. They say to be careful, and that the family members of someone struggling with alcohol use disorder should avoid alcohol at all costs. Mom and dad express their concerns and absolutely disapprove of their child drinking any alcohol at all.
As a parent, it’s OK to worry about your children. But to make sure you aren’t just scaring them needlessly, let’s go over how genetics plays a role in alcohol use disorder.
What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?
First and foremost, we should understand what an alcohol use disorder (AUD) is and how to determine if someone has an AUD. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that an alcohol use disorder is when problem drinking becomes severe. It also defines heavy drinking for men as consuming more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week. For women, it’s consuming more than three drinks on any day or more than 7 drinks per week.
Someone struggling with an AUD will find it difficult to stop drinking alcohol, can’t control how much they drink, and may black out often. More specific signs of alcohol use disorder could include:
- Tremors (shaking)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Strong cravings for alcohol
- Anxiety and depression
- Drinking larger amounts of alcohol than they usually do to get the same effect
- Showing less interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Financial and social problems
According to the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), to have mild alcohol use disorder, you only need two of their eleven symptoms present. Moderate AUD is four to five symptoms, whereas severe AUD is six or more symptoms.
If you or a loved one is suffering from an alcohol use disorder, it’s important to find a treatment center that offers programs specifically for AUD, including safe and medically supervised detox. You deserve to get better, and your health is the top priority.
Do Genetics Play A Role In Alcohol Use Disorder?
Yes, genetics do play a part in alcohol use disorder, so it makes sense that parents or other loved ones worry. It’s important to keep in mind that there is not a specific gene for AUD, but there are genes that have to do with certain processes that could heighten your risk for AUD.
For instance, there are two genes that play a big role in how a person’s body metabolizes, or processes, alcohol. There are variants of these genes that can cause your body to react more aggressively. Some people who carry certain variant genes will experience more dizziness, nausea, and heightened heart rate even when drinking small amounts of alcohol. These effects from the genes could deter a person from drinking large amounts of alcohol. Gene variants like this can be passed down through families.
So in essence, variances in genes can increase or decrease your risk of developing alcohol use disorder. This means genetics do indeed have a role in the risk of developing AUD, but it doesn’t mean genetics are the only reason for someone to suffer from an AUD.
Are Social Factors Involved?
Yes, social and environmental factors are involved. Social factors play a role in how a person’s views are molded. As you grow up, if you see ads on TV about alcohol and see grandpa drinking all the time, you may form views that say drinking is OK.
Environmental factors have an impact on how a person’s ideas and reactions to certain situations are formed. If you were raised to believe talking about your emotions makes you weak, you likely won’t talk about your emotions all that much because that is all you’ve been taught.
These environmental and social factors could then have effects on how you develop into adulthood. The effects of having alcohol use disorder around you at a young age can cause a lot of damage and could leave you with conditions like anxiety and depression, which also make you more susceptible to an AUD.
Does My Environment Pose Any Risk?
Your environment could potentially increase the chances of you developing an alcohol use disorder. Many times, high levels of stress, mental health disorders, and specific sights or smells could trigger a person to turn to alcohol.
If you are someone who has struggled with alcohol before, it’s possible that being around alcohol, seeing bottles of alcoholic beverages, or even smelling alcohol could cause cravings. For people who have not struggled with alcohol before, things such as excessive stress could push you to consider drinking.
If you believe stress could push you to drink, try to find other, safer methods to reduce your stress levels. If you have a group of friends who always try to pressure you into drinking, you could stop hanging out with them, or you could set very hard boundaries with them to keep yourself from drinking. You might want to make a list of the many different actions you can take to reduce your chances of making risky choices.
Some people turn to substances to cope with trauma. Though a substance may potentially numb the pain, that relief is only temporary, and how often you use the substance will only get worse over time. If you are currently experiencing situations that could lead you to drink or already have an alcohol use disorder, remember there are people here for you who want to help you.
There is no shame in seeking help.
How Much Of A Role Do Genetics Really Play?
Genetics vary from person to person. That’s why we are all different from one another. This also means that the heritability (how capable something is of being inherited) of alcohol use disorder will vary from person to person. Even siblings have varying genetic makeups from each other and therefore have varying heritability percentages. Genetics are extremely complex and can be vastly different.
Cambridge University conducted a study in 2014 that concluded the heritability of an alcohol use disorder sits at around 50%. Though this number may seem like it’s high, this does not mean you will develop an alcohol use disorder. The chances that you won’t develop an AUD are just as good as the chances that you could.
These are just numbers that represent a probability associated with the possible risk that someone could get an AUD according to genetics. It’s a possibility, but it’s not set in stone.
Just because someone related to you struggles with an AUD doesn’t mean you will, too. You could use these numbers as motivation to deviate from the statistics. You are able to create your own path or fix the one you’re currently on. Treatment and prevention are possible for everyone.
Will I Get An Alcohol Use Disorder From My Genetics?
Having a genetic predisposition to something doesn’t mean it will happen. It just means the probability of it happening is higher for you than for someone else. If anything, you can use these risk factors as motivation when you make specific decisions around alcohol.
Genetics are complicated and often pose a lot of “what if” scenarios. Ultimately, whether or not you develop an alcohol use disorder depends upon a vast number of things. The environment you live in, how you were raised, how you cope with emotions or trauma and genetics are all little pieces of this puzzle.
If you have struggled with alcohol before, or if you think you may in the future, keep in mind that there is hope for everyone. Just because there are risks doesn’t mean they will happen. Everything in life comes with risks. What matters is being educated about which risks are worth taking and which risks are not. You are the creator of your own destiny.
If you or your loved one is suffering from an alcohol addiction, it’s vital to seek help immediately. If you need help, the first step is to reach out. We will connect you with an alcohol treatment program to help you treat your symptoms and reclaim your life. It can be difficult, but your health is our main priority.
Is there a genetic component of alcohol use disorder?
There is not a gene for alcohol use disorder, but there are genetic factors that could increase the risk of AUD in the children of someone with an AUD. These genetic factors are normally variants in specific genes. Environmental and social factors also play a role in these situations.
Is alcohol use disorder genetic or cultural?
The short answer would be both. People with alcohol use disorder have genetic variants that can be passed down to children, but whether someone develops an AUD is also heavily influenced by social and environmental factors.
Do genetics play a role in addiction?
Yes, variants in genes can play a role in the risk of addiction, but there is no gene solely responsible for addiction.
What is the heritability (how capable something is of being inherited) of alcohol use disorder?
A study done by Cambridge University in 2014 concluded that alcohol use disorder has a heritability rate of about 50%.
What does biological and genetic research indicate about alcohol use disorder?
Research indicates there is not a specific gene that determines you will become an alcoholic, but there are genetic variants that are passed down through families that could increase your risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.