Is Alcoholism in My Genetic Make-Up?


April is Alcoholism Awareness Month
Many studies have shown that children of alcoholics are three to five times more likely to become alcoholics than children of non-alcoholic parents. Does this mean that a tendency toward alcoholism can be inherited? Researchers don't know for sure, as the studies differ.

Heredity or Environment?
All researchers believe that both heredity and environment influence whether a person becomes an alcoholic. However, there is still the question of which might have the most influence: the biological status of a person's parents or the way in which the person was raised. Unfortunately, the results of their studies have not always indicated the same results. Many alcoholics have no known alcoholic relatives, and many children of alcoholics don't become alcoholic. Yet children of alcoholics who are adopted into non-alcoholic homes at an early age are more likely to become alcoholics than children of non-alcoholics who are adopted into alcoholic homes.

Studies Disagree
Researchers disagree about the meanings of recent findings. Some say that certain studies on alcoholism may not be reliable because they depend on alcoholics’ own descriptions of themselves. Some say that research involving adoptive children is inadequate because it didn't study non-adoptive children in order to determine how being adopted might affect the development of alcoholism. And some say that not enough attention has been paid to environmental factors such as the age at which the child was adopted, the occupational status of the adoptive parents, and whether the cultural background condoned adult drunkenness.

Physical Differences
What does seem clear is that children of alcoholics are physically different from children of non-alcoholics. Differences are shown in brainwave patterns and hormone responses to intoxication. In addition, children of alcoholics report feeling less intoxicated after drinking a certain amount of alcohol than children of non-alcoholics. Some researchers believe that feeling less intoxicated may contribute to heavy drinking habits. Whether a tendency toward alcoholism can be inherited, these differences suggest that children of alcoholics should be especially careful about whether and how they drink.

What the Research Means
Is alcoholism caused by the environment in which you were raised, or was it inherited from your parents? To a research scientist this may be an important question, but does it really matter if you have a loved one that seems to be heading down the wrong path with regard to their drinking? Probably not. The important thing to remember is: if you have concerns about your loved one, ask questions and get help.

Answers are Easy to Find
Since 1988, The HealthQuest Employee Assistance Program has helped many State of Kansas employees and their family members deal with alcohol and other drug concerns. For straight-forward, confidential, no-charge help call 1-888-275-1205 (option 7) 24 hours a day.