Genetics and alcoholism PMC

The journal Nature Reviews Gastroenterology and Hepatology reports that several genes have been isolated as potential contributors to the hereditary nature of alcoholism. In other words, while alcoholism may be partially genetic, there is often much more to the story. No person is guaranteed to develop an addiction, just as nobody is completely immune to it. Studies suggests that triggers in your environment can alter the way your genes express themselves—effectively turning genes on or off. What’s even more interesting is that you may be able to partially pass these changes on.

However, even those with a high genetic risk to substance abuse must first be driven by a nonhereditary factor to do it. The catalyst that leads to alcohol abuse is very often an environmental factor, such as work-related stress. There are hundreds of genes in a person’s DNA that may amplify the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. Identifying these genes is difficult because each plays a small role in a much larger picture. Yet studies have shown that certain combinations of genes have a strong relationship to alcoholism. There is a growing body of scientific evidence that alcoholism has a genetic component.

Living with an Alcoholic Family Member

Research has suggested that it’s a combination of the above risk factors as well as genetics that could determine whether or not you develop alcohol use disorder. Living with inherited mental health conditions may increase the likelihood of developing alcohol use disorder. Scientists will never find just a single genetic change that causes addiction. It’s influenced by variations in multiple genes, plus factors from the environment. Researchers estimate that about half of alcoholism is due to heredity.

alcoholism running in genetics

In most cases, studies
recruited families having multiple members with alcohol dependence; such families
are likely to segregate variants that affect the risk of alcohol dependence. The
most common initial approach was linkage analysis, in which markers throughout the
genome were measured to identify chromosomal regions that appeared to segregate with
disease across many families. The drawback to this approach is
that linkage studies find broad regions of the genome, often containing many
hundreds of genes. In many cases, the initial linkage studies were followed by more
detailed genetic analyses employing single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that were
genotyped at high density across the linked regions. Some of the genes identified
through this approach have been replicated across a number of studies and appear to
be robust genetic findings. Instead, hundreds of genes inside your DNA can potentially amplify your risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.


The American Association for Cancer Research publishes that the Research Council on Problems of Alcohol was established to try and figure out a scientific link for the effects of alcohol on humans. Jellinek was the executive director and became the first director of the Center of Alcohol Studies at Yale in the early 1940s. Jellinek was instrumental in establishing alcoholism as a disease with scientific considerations, per the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Alcohol consumption and drinking have played a role in society for centuries.

The expression ‘alcoholic parent, alcoholic child’ was common for generations, but we’re hoping to help dispel this notion in multiple ways. The inaccuracy of that statement is that it is absolute; it infers that, as a rule, a child of an alcoholic will always be an alcoholic – which could be damaging for those who have an alcoholic parent. No, you are not destined to become an alcoholic just because your parents were an alcoholic. Alcoholism is a progressive disease that worsens with the continued use of alcohol but is not present at all if an individual abstains completely from alcohol. Many people seek medical treatment for AUD and may work with a therapist to learn coping strategies to minimize alcohol cravings and triggers. If alcohol tends to make you feel ill, it could be because of a genetic component.

Are You at Risk of Becoming an Alcoholic?

The interaction between alcoholism and genetics can impact whether or not a family member also becomes an alcoholic. A person is then less likely to resort to patterns of regular and problematic is alcohol abuse hereditary drinking. In this way, ADH1B and ALDH2 are hereditary factors that actually reduce the risk of developing alcoholism. Identical twins share the same exact genes, while fraternal twins do not.

While alcoholism and genetics can explain why the condition runs in families, it’s important to realize this isn’t the only reason. It’s also not guaranteed, as about half of the risk is due to factors aside from genetics. Again, just because a family member struggles with alcoholism does not mean it is inevitable that you also will.