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The Role of Genetics in Alcohol Dependence

Friday, March 29, 2024


Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a common challenge, affecting an estimated 16 million Americans. Formally diagnosed when a person’s dependence on alcohol causes distress, harm, or clinically significant impairments, AUD can have several root causes. It’s only recently that the medical community has been able to somewhat unravel the complex puzzle of contributing factors.

According to the most current data, there is at least some interplay between alcoholism and genetics. Here’s a closer look at what it means to have an alcohol dependence that runs in your family.

Is Alcoholism Genetic?

As with many medical conditions with a hereditary element, the role genetics play in alcoholism is complicated. There’s not one known gene, for instance, that can be attributed to all cases of alcoholism. Rather, like certain cancers, certain genes increase your risk of developing AUD. But their presence doesn’t mean you’ll develop an alcohol dependence, nor does it mean you’re automatically in the clear if you don’t.

Studies estimate that genes are responsible for about half of your risk for developing AUD. Genes that affect alcohol metabolism appear to have the strongest influence on alcohol misuse, including ADH1B and ALDH2. But there are more than 500 other gene variants that could contribute to alcohol misuse, too.

Interestingly, a few other genes might actually have a protective quality against AUD. They affect how the body metabolizes alcohol and can amplify its unpleasant effects, thereby making a person less likely to become dependent on it.

Should You Be Concerned About Hereditary Alcoholism?

Everyone who consumes alcohol regularly should be on the lookout for signs of misuse. Your risk is indeed higher if you have a parent or grandparent who has or used to have AUD, but alcoholism can affect anyone. Outside of genetics, there are social, psychological, and environmental factors that can contribute to your risk. Some examples include having a history of trauma, depression, and other mental health problems, as well as drinking at an early age. AUD tends to develop during your 20s and 30s, but it can begin at any phase of your life.

Whether you have several of these risk factors or none at all, there are things you can do to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol. There’s always the option to abstain altogether. But if you choose to continue drinking, here are some tips:

  • Set limits. Decide how many drinks you’ll have on a daily or weekly basis. Two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women are considered moderate amounts of consumption, so try not to exceed these limits.
  • Consider why you drink. Some people drink in celebratory settings, while others may have a drink to destress. If it’s anxiety or another mental health issue that’s prompting you to reach for alcohol, there are other options to help you cope, such as journaling or counseling.
  • Mix in alcohol-free alternatives. There are always other ways to have a good time that don't involve drinking. If you usually grab drinks with friends, you could switch things up by going for a hike or trying a new crafting class together. If drinking calms you after a long day, taking a hot bath or putting on some relaxing music could help you unwind. And if it’s the fizz or flavors you miss, mocktails are always worth a try, too.

Schedule an Appointment With SouthCoast Health

Knowing your family medical history is important for helping our doctors establish a clear and comprehensive snapshot of your whole health. Whether you have a family history of AUD, are concerned about your consumption, or just need a check-up, our providers are here to help you take care of yourself at every age. Schedule an appointment online or by calling 912.691.3600.

Whether you are looking for a primary care doctor or a pediatrician, or another medical specialist, SouthCoast Health has you covered with its wide range of world-class healthcare services, available throughout the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry. SouthCoast Health has 120 physicians and medical professionals in 18 locations in Savannah, Richmond Hill, Pooler, Rincon, Baxley, Hilton Head, Hinesville, and Statesboro. SouthCoast Health offers comprehensive medical services including: Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Allergy and Asthma, Cardiology, Endocrinology, Eye Care, Imaging, Infectious Diseases, Nephrology, Neurology, Physical Therapy, Podiatry, Sleep Medicine, Surgery, Clinical Trial Research Studies, Diabetic Self-Management Training Sessions, Dietetic Counseling, Laboratory Services, Massage Therapy, Optical Shop, Pharmacy, and Urgent Care.

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