Alcoholism, like other addictions, affects the rewards and motivation pathways of the brain. For years, scientists have engaged in an ongoing debate about the hereditary and genetic elements of addiction. Studies have linked Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) to distinctive genes. Growing up in a home with an alcoholic relative increases your chances of battling with alcoholism later in life.
Is Alcoholism Genetic?
Parents pass their genes to their children, while children inherit genes from their parents. From this simple explanation, it is easy to see the correlation between heredity and genetics. However, the differences between a genetic and hereditary disease become apparent when we look at them from a medical perspective.
Alcoholism and genetics studies try to find a mutation or abnormality in the genome that results in alcoholism while heredity debates if children received an already mutated gene from their parents that makes them likely to abuse alcohol.
Whichever way you look at it, alcoholism continues to be a significant issue. Alcoholism facts from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), state that alcohol is the third preventable cause of death in the United States alone. About 88,000 people die from alcohol-related reasons yearly. Also, an estimated 18 million people or 1 in 12 adults in the U.S. struggle with alcohol abuse, increasing their chances of organ damage like cirrhosis or kidney disease. And the risk factors for alcoholism are significantly increased by having an alcoholic family member.
Genetics And Alcoholism Connections
A 2008 Genetics and alcoholism study by the NIAAA determined that genetic predisposition to alcoholism accounts for 40 to 60 percent (alcoholism genetic statistics) of the disparity amongst people who battle with alcoholism. This conclusion was reached after a review of the available researches on alcohol use disorder, genetic alcoholism, and the possible existence of an alcoholism gene. While scientists are yet to find a particular gene that causes alcoholism, some distinctive genes that are partly responsible for alcohol use disorder have been discovered over time.
Of course, bearing in mind that the physical or observable characteristics of individual genetics are usually complex, some genes might be recessive. Strong genes like the one responsible for the movement of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in synapses between neurons are an exception to the rule.
Other genes of alcoholism metabolism that strongly increase the risk of alcoholism include ADH1B, ALDH2, AUTS2, CHRM2, and KCNJ6.
Is Alcoholism Hereditary?
Alcoholic genetic predisposition significantly increases the risk factor for alcoholism. But, although children of Alcoholics are between two times to four times more likely to battle with alcoholism later in life, a 2011 survey found that less than half of them became alcoholics. This could either mean that they didn’t inherit the alcoholism gene or that their environment influenced the expression of only specific genes. The answer to the question “is alcoholism inherited?” is yes. Constant exposure to large amounts of addictive substances over time can result in the individual’s brain being rewired to crave the substance. So, even without the presence of a genetic component, you can still inherit a predisposition to alcoholism based on your environmental influences or culture.
In conclusion, the straightforward answer to the question, “is there an alcoholic gene?” is both yes and no:
- Yes, because there are many distinct genes, as already listed above, that contribute to alcoholism.
- No, because no specific gene has yet been scientifically proven to cause alcohol abuse.