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Does Alcoholism Run in Families?

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, alcoholism claims three million+ American lives yearly, contributing to 6% of global deaths. Additionally, in 2020, 10.2% of U.S. citizens aged 12 and above were diagnosed with Alcohol Use Disorder.


Alcoholism is an addiction disease that puts the problem drinker and those around them in great distress. Sometimes, those around the problem drinker may experience more severe effects than the addict, especially the children. These children may develop emotional trauma, behavioral consequences, psychological problems like anxiety, hyperreactivity, hypervigilance, or trouble with self-regulation.


So, does alcoholism run in families? Let’s find out.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism or alcohol use disorder is an addictive disease that causes tolerance or dependence on alcohol. The habitual intake of alcohol escalates to the point that it interferes with your mental state, physical health, work, family, or social life.


Excess alcohol intake leads to both psychological and physical addiction. Psychological addiction is associated with emotional behavior regarding substance abuse, like severe alcohol cravings. In contrast, physical dependence involves experiencing physical symptoms like shivers when you withdraw or reduce alcohol consumption.


Alcohol is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system and reduces inhibition, anxiety, or feelings of guilt. The substance impairs perception, motor coordination, and judgment and lowers alertness. Alcohol damages your heart, brain, liver, and other organs and may lead to high doses of death.

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Alcoholism and Genetics

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Expert Contributor

Dr. Williams presently serves on the board of Directors for two non-profit service organizations. He holds a Master’s degree in Human Services from Lincoln University, Philadelphia, Pa, and a Ph.D. with a concentration in Clinical Psychology from Union Institute and University. In Cincinnati, Ohio. He is licensed to practice addictions counseling in both New Jersey and Connecticut and has a pending application as a practicing Psychologist in New Jersey.

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Some genetic issues may lead to alcoholism or increase your rate of having a drinking problem if you have a relative with an alcohol use disorder, especially a parent. Additionally, studies show that genetics account for 50% of causes leading to alcoholism. Hence, genes alone don’t determine if you will develop alcoholism; gene and environmental interactions and environmental factors account for the remaining 50%


In 2012, BioMed Central published one of the first research on addiction and alcohol use disorder. The research highlighted 11 genes that linked individuals to high risks of developing compulsive behaviors or drinking problems around alcohol. Many of these genes help explain why alcohol runs in some families.


Some of the signs of genetic factors are:

  • Regular binge drinking.

  • Having an excessive craving for drinking after having a small amount of alcohol.

  • Tolerance to higher amounts of alcohol.

  • Having a different reaction than others that sets off your cravings.

  • Having withdrawal symptoms when you quit or try to reduce alcohol amounts

  • Taking alcohol to avoid anxiety, stress, depression, etc.


Remember, there exist genes that can either increase or decrease your risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. These genes may work directly or indirectly; for instance, people of Asian descent have a gene variant that alters the speed of alcohol metabolism. These people may develop adverse side effects like nausea, skin flushing, or rapid heartbeats when they consume alcohol.


Many of these people, therefore, avoid alcohol to avoid the adverse side effects and hence a protective gene against alcoholism.

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Why Alcoholism Runs in Families

There are a couple of reasons why alcoholism runs in families. Firstly, family history and dynamics, and environmental factors directly influence an individual to develop alcoholism. You can learn family traits such as self-medicating with alcohol from your family members.


When you start drinking alcohol at a tender age, you will likely develop an alcohol use disorder. Some family members may encourage one another to drink and offer drinks to young children who aren’t of legal age. Due to their susceptibility, children exposed to alcoholic parents may also develop this unhealthy mental illness.


Secondly, when you drink alcohol, you develop few or no coping skills and use this practice to escape reality. Children growing up in this environment don’t develop the healthy coping skills to tackle everyday challenges. Furthermore, exposure to alcohol and a lack of coping skills may lead to mental illnesses.


Additionally, daily drinking sends an indirect message to your children that drinking is routine. This is because children in the early years of development watch and learn how to behave based on their environment. Other factors contributing to why alcoholism runs in families include:

  • Neglect

  • Emotional/physical abuse

  • Sexual abuse

  • Child maltreatment

  • Easy access to alcohol

  • Poverty

  • Absent parents

  • Adoption

  • Abandonment

  • Stress

  • Relationship conflicts

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The Effects of Alcoholism on The Family

Alcoholism has wide-ranging effects on the problem drinker and those around them, including employers. Some side effects of alcoholism include neglecting your duties and legal and financial problems.


Over-drinking and alcohol abuse leads to a lack of self-care required to achieve your daily health and financial requirements. Therefore, you must understand that excessive drinking is a health concern that you should treat holistically.


Alcoholism associates itself with lots of legal and financial problems. Drinking leads to depleted inhibitions that cause poor emotional regulation, decision-making, and risky behavior like starting fights or drunk driving. Financial problems are a more significant consequence of excessive alcohol intake.

Finding Treatment for Alcoholism

It is hard to know if you have a problem drinking, an alcohol use disorder, or are a regular drinker. However, if you have trouble controlling the amount you drink, contact a doctor today. A medical caregiver will adequately assess, diagnose, and advise you of the available treatment options.


Furthermore, local organizations and rehab centers support people with alcohol use disorders like Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.). These organizations use therapies and techniques like the 12-step programs to provide a holistic recovery. A.A. also conducts regular physical and virtual meetings; you can find the dates and times of their regular meetings online.


Treatment programs for alcoholism include:

  • Medical detox; detoxification is a withdrawal management treatment plan that rids alcohol from your system. Doctors use it at the beginning of treatment.

  • Residential inpatient alcohol rehab; is an in-house treatment program where you live at the center until you fully recover from alcoholism. You have access to psychiatric and on-call medical services during your stay.

  • Partial hospitalization programs (PHP); PHPs allow patients to attend the rehab center during the day for activities while they go home afterward. It is more flexible than residential inpatient treatment.

  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP); IOPs majorly focus on addiction disorders or dependencies that don’t require detox programs or 24-hour monitoring.


  • Outpatient alcohol treatment; sessions at this level of care take a few hours weekly while you stay home and continue your regular routines.


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Bottom Line

Talk to your doctor or therapist if you have concerns about developing alcoholism or if it runs in your family. The doctors will help you decide the best action to take and advise on treatment plans and coping strategies. Find help today, do not suffer in silence.

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Finding treatment for alcoholism
Alcoholism and genetics
Why alcoholism runs in families
The effects of alcoholism on the family
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