Is there such a thing as an “Alcohol Gene?” How responsible are your genes for a predisposition to alcohol abuse? How responsible is your surrounding environment? Simply put, there is complex relationship between genetics and environmental factors that contribute to Alcohol Use Disorder

Genetics and heredity are very closely linked. Since parents pass on genes to their children, those children will inherit many genetic predispositions. However, when discussing hereditary and genetic conditions, there are some medical differences. A person with a genetic condition has an abnormality in his or her genome. A person with a hereditary disorder has inherited a genetic mutation from his or her parent’s DNA.

“Alcohol Gene”

Research shows that nearly half of the underlying cause of AUD is genetic. Environmental and social factors make up the second half of a person’s predisposition to alcohol abuse. Genes are not fully responsible for AUD, but some genes contribute greatly. There is not just one gene responsible for alcohol use disorder. Literally hundreds of genes that can increase the risk of AUD, but each plays a small role in a much larger picture.

Behavioral genes tend to play the biggest part in AUD. They can be passed down from generation to generation and give one a greater propensity for alcohol abuse.  Family history of mental illnesses or conditions like depression and schizophrenia can also contribute to alcohol use as a coping mechanism. Recently, research has shown the link between AUD and conditions like ADHD. Many undiagnosed with attention disorders abuse alcohol to cope with their condition. 

Mental disorders can be hereditary (and environmental), which partially illuminates the complex link between genetics and addiction. Research shows that genes are responsible for about half of the risk for AUD. Therefore, genes alone do not determine whether someone will develop AUD. Environmental factors, as well as gene and environment interactions account for the remainder of the risk.” – National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 

Genes that Influence Alcoholism

  • Fewer Warning Signs – People who have a genetic predisposition to alcohol abuse might experience less warning signs from their brain and body telling them to stop drinking in excess.
  • Smaller Amygdala – Some studies have shown that people with a genetic predisposition to alcohol abuse have a smaller amygdala than average. This part of the brain is associated with emotions and cravings.
  • Abnormal Serotonin Levels – People with genetic predisposition to alcohol abuse have unusual levels of serotonin in their brain. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that regulates mood and low levels are associated with depression.

Environmental Factors

Since genes only account for half of the cause of AUD, environmental factors cause the remaining half. Factors like stress, work, relationships, money, etc., can all influence a person’s decision to use alcohol as a coping mechanism. Couple that with genetic predisposition to alcohol abuse and there is a clear recipe for AUD as a mode of self-medication. 

Trauma can also me a major contributing environmental factor to AUD. Physical or sexual abuse is a very strong predictor of substance abuse later in life along with other risk factors from childhood. Other risk factors include things like poor social skills, lack of parental supervision, peer pressure, or poor school performance. Accessibility to alcohol and drugs to a young person with genetic predisposition can create a higher likelihood of developing AUD.

Next Steps

Both your genetics and your environment can contribute to Alcohol Use Disorder. If you feel like your alcohol consumption is out of control, you might have an AUD caused by genes passed down to you and/or stress factors in your life.

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction, help is available. Rock Recovery Center in West Palm Beach, Florida can help with advice on next steps. Call our 24-hour helpline or chat live with us now.

Additional Resources

Genetics and Alcoholism 

Role Genetics Plays in Alcoholism