For as long as mankind has existed, so have addicts and alcoholics. Even in ancient times, there were plenty of men and women who struggled with drinking too much wine or dabbling in other substances. Alcoholism and addiction have always fascinated us as well as frightened us. For many years, we had little understanding of this disorder, and often it was seen as a mental disability that was dealt with cruelly. Alcoholics and addicts were believed to be insane of poor moral fiber, making the active choice of putting drugs and alcohol over everything else in their lives, despite the dire consequences of doing so.
But, perhaps, we’ve been looking at alcoholism all wrong. Another, usually less spoken about theory is that our alcoholism is a direct result of our innate biology—otherwise known as genetic alcoholism. Rather than being a product of our environments or reaching this sad fate after a string of unlucky events and choices made on our part, genetic alcoholism can be to blame for our inability to control our drinking.
Drinkers’ DNA: Genetic Alcoholism
Many times, there appears to be a pattern of traits across generations. Whether it’s having green eyes, light hair, and being of a stocky stature, similarities can almost always be physically observed between various members of the same family. This is because these traits are written directly into the human coding, or Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).
Whenever a human being is created, it takes the coalescence of two humans’ DNA to fabricate the new code that will ultimately become the new human. During this process, a variety of traits are funneled into the baby. While brown eyes and brown hair may be dominant traits, can the same be said about genetic alcoholism? Why does it seem that many times, alcoholism and its traits are rampant throughout one family, while almost never seen in another?
Researchers have been fascinated by this question for years. Many studies have been done on genetic alcoholism and the “alcoholism gene” in hopes of finally unlocking the truth behind just what determines whether a person is to suffer an alcoholic fate. After many studies and much research on the subject across the years, researchers are confident they have found that genetic alcoholism is, in fact, the real deal. Genetics can play a role in whether or not a person develops Alcohol Use Disorder, or AUD. Children of alcoholics are said to be four times more likely than the regular population to develop AUD as a result of genetic alcoholism. However, it is only responsible for about half the risk of developing AUD.
Nature Vs. Nurture
So, if genetics are only 50 percent culpable for deciding whether an individual develops AUD, what accounts for the other 50 percent? Well, researchers have determined that various environmental factors like how you’re raised, the neighborhood you grew up in, and traumas you’ve experienced can all impact and foster the development of AUD. This means the argument of “Nature vs. Nurture” when it comes to alcoholism is null and void. It is more along the lines of “Nature AND Nurture”.
Essentially, research has shown that just because you’re born into a family riddled with alcoholism and raised in a rough neighborhood doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be alcoholic, the same way that a person born into a family without alcoholism and raised in a good neighborhood won’t be alcoholic. It is a very complex relationship between genetic alcoholism and environmental alcoholism. But this does not take away from the validity of genetic alcoholism itself.
More About Genetic Alcoholism
While genetic alcoholism cannot take responsibility for AUD alone, it definitely still plays a substantial role in millions of people’s struggles with alcohol around the world. There is no singular “alcoholism gene” either. Instead, research has shown there are a variety of genes that play a part in deciding AUD or not. There are some genes that increase or decrease a person’s probability of developing AUD.
People of Asian descent, in particular, demonstrate the role of genetic alcoholism perfectly. They carry a specific gene that alters their bodies’ metabolism rate of alcohol. As a result of this gene, they will often feel the effects of alcohol faster than other people who don’t carry the gene, and will experience negative symptoms like nausea and dizziness sooner rather than later. These negative symptoms will act as deterrents from drinking excessively and can help protect them from AUD.
Genetics can also play an integral role in the success one might experience when it comes to treatment for AUD. Different people have found the drug Naltrexone is highly effective in treating their substance abuse disorders thanks to possessing a certain variant in the AUD gene. Cultural aspects directly correlated to genetics also make a huge difference in success. For example, treatment for people of Latino descent must be specialized due to their values and response to different types of traditional treatment.
Are You At Risk?
Whether you are directly at risk for developing genetic alcoholism or not, getting help for your alcoholism, whatever the cause, is crucial. Time is of the essence when dealing with alcoholism. If left unchecked, alcoholism is a progressive disorder that merely gets worse over time. The threat of suffering an overdose on alcohol may be imminent. Weaning yourself off of alcohol can also be a dangerous endeavor, as alcohol withdrawals can be deadly. You should not have to undergo your quest for recovery alone, and that’s where The Palm Beach Institute can help.
If you or a loved one is currently struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, give our addiction professionals a call at 855-534-3574 or contact us online to be connected to the help you or a loved one may need. As Florida’s oldest addiction treatment facility, we have tried and true methods for helping you overcome your addiction and start your journey in sobriety today!