Is There an Alcoholic Gene?

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Is there such thing as an "alcohol gene?" So, how responsible are genes for a predisposition to alcohol abuse?

There's a complex link between environmental factors and genetics contributing to Alcohol Use Disorder.

The psychological, emotional, and physical toll of growing up as a kid of alcoholic parents could continue well into adulthood.

Adult kids of dysfunctional families often have a hard time throughout their lives. Most of these develop into mental conditions and relationship problems.

Heredity and genetics are very closely associated. Parents pass on genes to their kids, those kids will inherit a lot of genetic predispositions.

Nonetheless, one will find some differences when discussing genetic and hereditary conditions.

An individual with a genetic condition has an irregularity in their genome. For example, a person with a hereditary disorder has inherited a genetic mutation from their parent's DNA.

The good news is, an evidence based treatment for alcoholism, which could help individuals with an alcoholic parent or relative exists and there can be several options depending on the person’s circumstances.

The “Alcohol Gene” and Alcohol Use Disorder

At least half of the underlying causes of AUD are genetic. Social and environmental factors make up the second half of an individual's predisposition to alcohol abuse.

Therefore, genes are not responsible for AUD. However, a study proves that some genes contribute massively.

There's not only one gene accountable for alcohol use disorder. Hundreds of genes could boost the risk of AUD, but each one plays a trivial role in a much bigger picture.

What’s more, behavioural genes are more likely to play a major part in AUD. They could be passed down from one generation to another and offer a person a higher tendency for alcohol abuse.

Family history of mental conditions or illnesses like schizophrenia and depression could also contribute to alcohol use as a coping mechanism.

Recently, research has demonstrated the connection between ADHD and AUD.

However, most undiagnosed with attention disorders abuse alcohol tend to cope with their condition.

Is Alcoholism Genetic?

Has research been done to seek answers to questions like alcoholism runs in families and is alcoholism hereditary?

For example, it was discovered that identical twins tend to be more alcoholic than full siblings or fraternal twins. That places more emphasis on alcoholism's heritability.

Assessing addiction’s family history proved that adult children and relatives of alcoholic parents are four times more likely to be alcoholics.

In short, daughters of alcoholic mothers tend to experience alcohol use disorder. Hence, an alcoholic mother is anticipated to pass on that condition fourfold to her children.

Nonetheless, drinking alcohol throughout pregnancy could lead to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). That’s a group of conditions that impact the baby because of the mother’s alcohol intake.

Moreover, a study has discovered that environmental factors can impact an individual’s genetic makeup in the end.

These are called epigenetic changes, which could result in a person developing an addiction to alcohol. Moreover, those changes could be transported from one generation to another generation.

So, Is Alcoholism Hereditary?

Base on a societal point of view, it may look like the condition is a personal decision.

Nonetheless, one will find proof supporting the genetic nature of alcoholism when looked at from an expert's viewpoint.

A few of the alcohol addiction genes result in the condition, while some impact drugs’ abuse.

But take note that no single alcoholic gene which brings about the disease. Instead, genetics plays half of the role, even though much of the proof demonstrates that alcoholism is hereditary.

Other responsibility lies with environmental factors. Below are some of the responsible genes:

  • PECR – Peroxisomal trans-2-enoyl-CoA [coenzyme A] reductase
  • CHRM2 – Muscarinic cholinergic receptor 2
  • GABRA2 – Gamma-aminobutyric acid receptor 2
  • ALDH2 – Aldehyde dehydrogenase 2
  • ADH1B – Alcohol dehydrogenase 1B

What are the Genes that Impact Alcoholism?

Below are some of the genes influencing alcoholism:

Abnormal serotonin levels

Individuals with a genetic predisposition to alcohol abuse have abnormal levels of serotonin in their brains. Bear in mind that serotonin is a crucial neurotransmitter regulating mood, and low levels are connected with depression.

Smaller amygdala

It was found out that individuals with a genetic predisposition to alcohol abuse have a much smaller amygdala than usual. That part of the brain is connected with cravings and emotions.

Fewer warning signs

Individuals suffering from a genetic predisposition to alcohol abuse may encounter fewer warning signs from their body and brain telling them to avoid drinking too much.

Environmental Factors to Consider

Genes only account for at least half of the AUD cause. Environmental factors cause the rest. Factors such as money, relationships, work, and stress, among others, can impact an individual’s decision to use alcohol as their coping mechanism.

Combine that with a genetic predisposition to alcohol abuse, and that’s an obvious recipe for alcohol use disorder as a mode of self-medication.

Further, trauma could be a big contributing environmental factor to AUD. Sexual or physical abuse is a powerful predictor of substance abuse and other risk factors from a person’s childhood.

Other risks factors involve:

  • poor school performance
  • peer pressure
  • lack of parental supervision
  • poor social skills

Accessibility to drugs and alcohol to a young individual with a genetic predisposition can establish a higher possibility of having AUD as well.

Obvious Signs an Individual is Genetically Inclined to Alcoholism

Alcoholism is the outcome of different environmental factors such as anxiety and stress.

The different conditions connected with these elements impact epigenetic changes, which support alcohol abuse as a coping mechanism.

Hence, individuals who are often stressed and suffer from depression are more inclined to addiction.

An alcohol addiction gene test will have to locate the polymorphism in the genes which influence alcoholism.

In addition, a possible test has to locate the epigenetic changes as well, which can result in the disorder.

For instance, one such test was created by a group of German and American researchers. The test locates for the eleven genes which can identify alcoholics in a certain population.

However, those same genes are also associated with other conditions and disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and anxiety.

That test is further evidence of the connection between genetics and alcohol.

Besides, there's a test measuring dopamine levels in a person. So when that pleasure neurotransmitter is low, there’s a high possibility that the individual will already abuse alcohol or will likely do so.

Genetic testing can also show the A1 allele of the DRD2 (dopamine receptor gene).

The presence of that gene is specifically typical in people with cocaine or alcohol addiction. So that offers a connection between addiction and genetics.

Common Problems Experienced by Adult Kids with Alcoholic Parents

Did you know that adult kids of alcoholics often experience lifelong problems in different aspects of their lives?

Some of the most typical problems they suffer are the following:

Family conflicts

Adult kids of alcoholics are often involved in emotional or physical violence and conflicts.

In addition, they may suffer from isolation and the incapability to deal with typical workplace stressors due to the lack of family support. That can result in marital problems and financial concerns.

Alcohol-related issues

It has been discovered that individuals who have a first-degree relative—either sibling or parent—with alcoholism suffer from more relapses, blackouts, automobile crashes, and academic issues despite the same drinking patterns as individuals without a history of alcoholism in their family.

Relationship issues

Take note that co-dependency is a typical relationship pattern among kids with alcoholic parents.

That’s a dysfunctional way of behaving and communicating towards a partner where the other person’s self-esteem and emotional needs are massively reliant on each other.

Success and intelligence

Kids of alcoholic fathers are found to have lower IQ scores than those kids raised by non-alcoholic ones.

What’s more, maternal use of alcohol throughout pregnancy could result in FASD along with substantial neurological deficits as well as lifelong concerns with poor cognitive performance.

Psychological conditions

Keep in mind that parental alcoholism is connected with different psychiatric issues such as low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.

Substance abuse

Is alcoholism hereditary? Unfortunately, yes, it is. Alcoholism runs in families. Adult kids of alcoholic parents are known to be four times higher at risk of becoming alcoholics themselves.

Kids who are brought up and adopted in a non-alcoholic setting continue to bring increased risk.

Practical Ways to Effectively Cope with Alcoholic Parents Who Refuses to Seek Help

A few individuals think about what they can do to help parents who aren't listening to reason. Unfortunately, not all are aware of this, but denial among alcohol addicts or abusers is widespread.

It could be one of the most stressful aspects when it comes to dealing with this concern.

Was there an underage kid who is suffering from neglect or abuse? It will help if a concerned individual reports this to a family member, a law enforcement officer, or a teacher.

It will be the responsibility of such adults to encourage the father or mother to seek support and guarantee the child’s safety.

When a father/mother can’t be persuaded to seek help, it might involve friends or family members.

The other alternative is to arrange a professional intervention by a clergyperson or a healthcare provider.

Below are some ways to confront an alcoholic parent efficiently and effectively:

  • Provide reassurance that help and support are always accessible.
  • The kid should select a quiet moment and peacefully share their concerns, back it up with an honest discussion about why alcohol has become an issue.
  • Stay away from bringing up alcohol topic when the parent is drunk or has been drinking, which can result in negative confrontation and lower the possibilities of seeking support

Are there any honest problems with a harsh reaction? It is recommended not to undertake the intervention all alone.

Young kids must enlist the assistance of a responsible relative or family member. Luckily, family intervention is sometimes the turning point within alcohol parent stories.

Taking Advantage of Genetic Information to Fight Alcoholism

The genetic links to addiction are vital not for expecting alcoholism in people but for helping determine high-risk groups and creating treatment plans.

Experts and professionals studying the link between alcohol abuse and genes can utilize that information to plan early interventions or seek ways to treat addiction and relieve the withdrawal symptoms.

For instance, one certain gene variant has been determined, which makes individuals with alcoholism react better to the drug naltrexone­—used to lower alcohol cravings throughout recovery.

The combination of environmental and genetic factors as causes of addiction indicates that treatment takes on different forms. Even somebody who has certain genes connected with addiction can efficiently undergo treatment.

Take the Next Steps

Both a person's environment and genetics could contribute to Alcohol Use Disorder.

For example, do you feel like your alcohol use is out of control? You may have an AUD caused by genes transferred to you or stress factors in your life.

Do you or your loved one are suffering from alcohol addiction? Help is always accessible.

Get in touch with your healthcare professional today (see Abbeycare Gloucester, Abbeycare Scotland) to learn more about potential treatment options, which could put you or them on the journey to recovery.

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Pete has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. To read more about Pete visit his LinkedIn profile.