Why Does Alcoholism Run in Families?
Alcoholism is a disorder that affects people of all ages, races, ethnicities and socioeconomic groups. It has been long reported that one of the risk factors for developing alcohol use disorder is having a family member who also has the disorder. But why does alcoholism tend to run in families?
While there is a genetic component to passing on this disorder, it’s a little more complex than that. Both genes and environment are factors in how alcoholism runs in families.
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Alcoholism and Genetics
There appears to be a link between alcoholism and genetics and some biological factors that can cause alcoholism to be passed down from one generation to the next. Signs of the genetic component of alcohol use disorder include:
- Experiencing a different reaction to alcohol than others, which can set off craving
- Having a higher tolerance for large amounts of alcohol
- Having a compulsion to drink more once a small amount is consumed
Family Influences on Developing Alcoholism
Turning to alcohol as a way of life is often learned from different members of the family. Family members may encourage each other to drink, and in some families, alcohol is offered to children or teenagers who can’t legally drink outside the home. When a person starts drinking at an early age, they are at higher risk of developing alcohol use disorder.
Even if alcohol isn’t shared with the younger members of the family, children are watching and learning everything their parents do. If a child’s parents drink in excess, they are communicating the message that daily drinking is the most natural thing in the world. They also are setting an example for their children of turning to alcohol every time they feel sad, anxious or bored. At the other extreme, children are taught that happy occasions such as sporting events and weddings always include heavy drinking.
Lack of Coping Skills
When one or more parents abuses alcohol, it’s usually a sign that the parents have few or no coping skills. The only solution they have to any kind of stress or intense emotion is to pick up a drink, and often to keep drinking in an effort to escape turbulent emotions.
In this type of environment, the parents are setting an example of having a complete inability to cope with the ups and downs of day-to-day life. They are unable to teach their children healthy coping skills that they haven’t learned themselves.
Not All Family Members Develop Substance Use Disorder
While genetics and family influence may increase the risk of developing alcoholism, all children of alcoholics aren’t necessarily destined to become alcoholics themselves. Having a genetic predisposition for developing alcohol use disorder can have no effect on a person who never picks up alcohol in the first place. In many families where there are several children with the same genes and the same upbringing, not all the children become alcoholics.
If a person is surrounded by family members whose lives have been destroyed by alcoholism, they may try very hard to resist following in their footsteps. They may be repulsed at the thought of drinking at all, or they may be very careful to drink in only small amounts.
Watching Out for Signs of Alcoholism
Having a close family member with alcoholism doesn’t mean developing alcohol use disorder is inevitable, but it’s a good idea to be aware of symptoms that could start to develop at some point. These include:
- Feeling an intense craving for alcohol
- Being unable to resist the urge to drink, or to continue drinking once started
- The need to consume higher quantities of alcohol to achieve the desired effect
- The onset of withdrawal symptoms when drinking is stopped, such as shaking, mood swings, nausea or anxiety
If you are at high risk of alcohol use disorder or you have any concerns about your drinking, talk to your doctor or an addiction professional. They’ll be able to help you determine whether or not you’ve developed a problem with alcohol, and they can help you deal with any problems you’re experiencing.
If you or a loved one are struggling with alcoholism, please call us at (866) 339-3544 or submit the form below to learn more about our alcohol addiction treatment programs in Los Angeles.
Since 2004, Lori has worked with the behavioral health treatment community to bring awareness about mental health disorders and evidence-based treatments. Lori strives to help people better understand mental illness and provide support to those needing help and their families. As a mental health advocate, Lori works to be a voice for those suffering from substance abuse, dual diagnosis, borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, trauma, or any other disorder.