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Is Alcoholism Hereditary?

By: Sam Harrington-Lowe - Updated: 25 Jul 2014 | comments*Discuss
Hereditary Alcoholism Is Alcoholism

It is generally agreed that alcoholism can be hereditary, and if you have or had an alcoholic parent then you run a higher risk of developing the condition yourself than other people might.

However, this does not necessarily mean it is an unavoidable situation. There are many other contributory factors that can compound the issue, so just because you have an alcoholic parent, or parents, does not automatically mean you will develop the disease yourself.

It does mean, however, that you will need to be more vigilant than most other people, and keep a careful and honest watch on what you are doing when it comes to your alcohol consumption habits.

Genetics and Alcoholism

Alcoholism does tend to run in families and it’s felt that genetics are partly responsible for this. Much research is and has been undertaken to discover and understand those genes that make a person prone to developing alcoholism. In clinical research, it has been found that twins born to alcoholic parents, given up for adoption and living separately, have both gone on to develop alcoholism, and studies like this lend weight to the heredity argument.

But popular opinion is that it’s this genetic glitch, together with environmental situations and learnt behaviour from an alcoholic home that can cause the disease to develop. It’s not necessarily just genetic… these other factors play a huge part in the whole thing.

Alcohol and Environmental Influence

It’s not just your genes that can cause alcoholism, and environmental issues such as home life and background can play a huge part in the development of this disease.

Living with an alcoholic, or even in some cases, two alcoholics, can have a very disruptive influence over children. Growing up, they will have high anxiety levels, and live with tension and chaos at home. It’s also been shown that reported incidents of abuse, both physical and sexual, is far higher in the homes where there are alcohol problems and these issues can go for years without being dealt with.

These children are also likely to underachieve at school, have trouble fitting in, and be destructive and rebellious. And this unhappy childhood can lead to far greater problems down the line.

Learnt Behaviour and Drinking

Added to the situations above of course is the aspect of learnt behaviour and bad habits. If all a person has ever known is regular and consistent heavy drinking and difficult behaviour, arguments and strife, it’s going to hard for them to realise that’s not the normal way to live. People in general following familiar and recognised modes of behaviour, following patterns and falling into old habits. It will be difficult not to fall into those patterns during adult life.

It’s also true to say that a high proportion of adults who have been children of alcoholic parents very often end up with partners who have alcohol abuse problems or addiction. So that learnt behaviour thing raises its head again in this way.

In summary, the best way to see the heredity issues is to accept that those with alcoholism in their family are at greater risk, but that it is by no means a foregone conclusion, and being aware can be enough to ensure this destructive disease does not take hold.

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I've been researching this quite a bit and there seems to possibly be a correlation between low SHBG and alcoholism.Research shows alcohol consumption increases SHBG and low SHBG can be associated with high clearance rates of hormones like Testosterone and Estrogen leading to a hormonal imbalance.Since SHBG levels are known to be influenced by genetics, doesn't it stand to reason that this is a pathway that should be evaluated in all alcoholics, especially those who are in recovery or at high risk?
Samson - 25-Jul-14 @ 5:33 AM
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