Is Alcoholism Genetic?

Millions of Americans deal with alcohol use disorder. A particular study showed that over 18 million American adults are struggling with alcohol addiction. Alcohol addiction is among the most significant contributors to issues like domestic violence and divorce.

When not treated soon enough, alcoholism can also be fatal because it damages the liver’s ability to function in your body. This is because the liver breaks down or metabolizes all the alcohol you consume. However, the organ is limited in terms of the quantity of alcohol; it can break down at a specific time. Therefore, the heavier you drink, the more susceptible your liver is to damage. This eventually leads to fatal liver cirrhosis. Liver cirrhosis causes the death of roughly 100,000 people annually. Alcoholism also increases the risk of developing cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

What causes alcoholism? There are several risk factors for alcoholism, some of which include mental disorders like depression and anxiety, peer pressure, stressful situations, low self-esteem, and having a relative or parent with alcoholism. One of the biggest questions that you may ask yourself when you have alcoholism, or you know someone who is dealing with it, is whether or not the condition is hereditary. And if so, does it mean that you will never be able to resist heavy drinking?

Is alcoholism genetic?

Yes, recent studies show that there are some genes present that increase the risk of alcoholism. Not just one gene is responsible for increasing the risk of alcoholism; several genes are involved. Some of these genes have been identified, while some are yet to be determined. The two primary genes that contribute to alcoholism are ADH1B and ALDH2. Both genes are involved in the metabolism of alcohol in the liver. More genes are also present in addition to the two that contribute to alcoholism.

Furthermore, these genes of alcoholism contribute to more issues other than alcohol addiction. The genes determine the amount of drinking and the likelihood of acquiring diseases associated with alcohol consumption, such as diabetes. For example, if your dad’s diabetes was caused by heavy alcohol consumption, you are also likely to acquire diabetes due to heavy alcohol consumption.

Does your parent or close relative indulge in heavy alcohol drinking? If yes, then you are at a higher risk of also suffering from alcoholism. The closer the relationship between you and the family member addicted to alcohol, the higher the chances of developing the condition. For example, you are three to four times more likely to have alcoholism if your parent is an alcoholic. In contrast, you are one to two times more likely to have alcohol addiction if your aunt or uncle is an alcoholic.

However, not everyone who has the genes for alcoholism is guaranteed to have a drinking problem. Although the condition is genetically related, it only increases the likelihood of alcoholism; it does not guarantee alcoholism. The genetic aspect of alcoholism needs to interact with a combination of environmental factors for you to have alcoholism. This means that you will likely indulge in heavy drinking if your family has a history of alcoholism, and you are under stressful situations, peer pressure, or have depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem.

You also do not need to be genetically predisposed to alcoholism for you to indulge in alcohol heavily. Environmental factors alone are enough to make someone indulge in heavy consumption of alcohol. You are likely to become addicted to alcohol if you increase the amount of alcohol you drink. Alcoholism develops gradually; the more you increase the levels of alcohol you drink over time, the more likely your body will become dependent on large amounts of alcohol. You develop tolerance to alcohol levels sufficient enough to get you drunk in the past. This means that you will develop symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, such as agitation and anxiety, when you do not consume the high levels of alcohol that your body has become dependent on.

To prevent developing alcoholism due to genetic predisposition and or environmental factors, you need to make sure that you do not overindulge. Alcohol levels in your blood need to be below 0.8% to avoid the risk of alcoholism. Levels higher than 0.8% every time you consume alcohol eventually correspond to a higher risk of alcoholism.

How to treat alcoholism

The most common treatment for alcoholism is rehabilitation. When you or your loved one have been suffering from alcoholism and are ready to make lifestyle changes, your first rehabilitation program will involve withdrawal and detoxification. Detoxification will include quitting alcohol consumption and allowing the alcohol in your body to leave the system. It is an intense process that involves symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, such as agitation, irritability, excessive sweating, palpitations, and insomnia. However, a doctor may prescribe drugs like benzodiazepines to reduce the severity of the symptoms like anxiety and insomnia. More drugs can be prescribed, such as antidepressants and anticonvulsant drugs depending on the symptoms you will experience.

Treatment will also involve behavioral modifications, attending support groups, and counseling. In most cases, dual diagnosis treatment is recommended because alcoholism often occurs together with mental disorders like depression and anxiety. In dual diagnosis treatment, both mental disorder and alcoholism are treated because mental disorders are a risk factor of alcoholism. Thus, when the risk factor is not treated, you will likely experience a relapse. Dual diagnosis treatment is, therefore, a more effective form of therapy that helps prevent future relapse.

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