The On-going Question: Is Alcoholism Genetic?
Alcoholism is a chronic condition that is characterized by an inability to control consumption, alcohol use in spite of associated personal or professional problems, and a physical dependence on alcohol. Binge drinking can also be a sign of alcoholism. Alcoholics often find themselves drinking larger amounts to achieve the same level of intoxication, drinking for longer periods, or drinking in spite of the consequences to themselves or their loved ones.
Is Alcoholism Genetic Or Not?
Genes are responsible for visible differences between people such as eye color or hair color, but they are also responsible for cellular differences, including those that are responsible for disease processes. Because several different genes, including those involved in alcohol metabolism and the nervous system, are associated with alcoholism, it is considered a genetically complex disease.The genetic link appears to be strongest in men who are of European descent. A Washington University study that evaluated nearly 300 sets of twins found that the genetic connection may be less strong in women. However, genes can account for as much as half of a personâ€™s alcoholism risk in both men and women and are considered the most reliable indicator of risk.
Genetics are a strong predictor of an individual’s risk, but genes alone are not enough to cause alcoholism. Environmental, social, and psychological factors also play roles in the development of the disease. Those whose parents are alcoholics are more likely to suffer not just drug or alcohol problems, but are also more likely to have an addictive personality that manifests itself in other ways, such as compulsively overeating or gambling, and may be more vulnerable to depression and anxiety.
Unlocking the Alcoholism Genetic Code
As researchers continue to unravel the genetics of alcoholism, they are also identifying genes that may be linked to a reduced risk of alcoholism. The field of epigenetics, or identifying the factors that can affect genes, has been exploring the genetics of alcoholism and identifying various risk factors. This field of study may provide alcoholics with more effective treatments based on their specific genetic code. Additionally, identifying those carrying alcoholic genes can allow researchers to develop effective early interventions for even young children that may just help prevent alcoholism entirely.