Alcoholism is an uncontrollable compulsion to drink alcohol, to the point where alcohol controls your life and ruins your relationships. An addiction to alcohol can be caused by many things, including a stressful lifestyle and certain mental health disorders, but if you have a relative who is a known alcoholic, is alcoholism hereditary?
Most of the time, there are many factors that lead to a dependence on alcohol. Alcoholism is typically caused by a combination of psychological, environmental, and genetic factors. However, some people are more susceptible to alcohol addiction than others and alcoholism often runs in families—although this does not mean you are guaranteed to develop the disease!
Is alcoholism hereditary?
There is a definite genetic factor in cases of alcoholism and research on twins has shown that when twins are born to alcoholic parents and subsequently adopted, irrespective of their upbringing, the children often grow up and develop a dependency on alcohol.
There have been many studies carried out to try and calculate the level hereditary factors play in the development of alcoholism. Some research has indicated that children born to alcoholic parents are 50% more likely to become alcoholics themselves and sons born to alcohol dependent fathers are even more at risk than daughters. However, many experts believe that the genetic link is more complicated than that and that certain inherited personality traits must also be present for a dependence on alcohol to develop.
Statistics have shown that people with alcoholism in the family often have an addictive personality and as well as being at risk of developing alcoholism themselves, they are also likely to become dependent on drugs or other self destructive activities such as gambling. Such people are more prone to stress, anxiety, and depression, all of which can play a role in whether an addiction to alcohol becomes a problem later in life.
But whilst this type of evidence is very compelling and genetics clearly play a role in the development of alcoholism, environmental factors are also partly to blame. Children born to alcoholic parents and not taken into care are likely to experience a highly dysfunctional upbringing. At the very least their home life will be chaotic, but at worst such children are likely to be affected by emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.
Children of alcoholic parents usually grow up with significant emotional and social problems and even though their genes predispose them to becoming an alcoholic, their dysfunctional childhood pretty much seals the deal. So in this instance, it is a combination of nature AND nurture.
Inherited or Copied Behavior?
Growing up with alcoholic parents also leads children to think that drinking heavily is a normal part of life and because negative learned patterns of behavior are such a powerful influence on a vulnerable child, this makes it much more likely that the child will fall into the same pattern of alcoholism as an adult.
Because children born to alcoholic parents are more at risk of being blighted by alcoholism as adults, it is important that such individuals have access to plenty of support systems to help them learn essential coping skills.