Is Alcoholism Genetic?

Jul 2023 Is Alcoholism Genetic?

Why can some people drink alcohol in moderation without becoming addicted, while others are incapable of controlling the amount and frequency of their alcohol use? Is this something people are born with, or something they acquire as they age? In other words, is alcoholism genetic?

What is the Definition of a Genetic Disorder?

To answer the question, “Is alcoholism genetic?” it can be helpful to review what, exactly, a genetic disorder is.

As defined by the National Human Genome Research Institute, genetic disorders are diseases that are caused completely or partially by abnormalities or variations in a person’s DNA sequence. These abnormalities may involve mutations of one gene or several genes. They may also involve damage to chromosomes, which are the structures that carry genes.

In some cases, people are born with the genetic variation that causes a particular disease. In other cases, damage or mutations may result from a person’s behaviors or their exposure to an environmental toxin.

Is Alcoholism Genetic?

Experts have not yet identified a single, universal cause for alcoholism or any other form of addiction. Instead, research has revealed that a variety of factors can determine who is or isn’t at elevated risk. These include both genetic and environmental influences.

Since genes appear to play some role in the development of addictions, what does this mean in the context of the question, “Is alcohol genetic?” 

What it means is that genetics are one of many reasons why a person may develop alcohol use disorder (which is the clinical term for alcoholism). For example, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that genetics account for 50%-60% of a person’s vulnerability for alcohol addiction.

Other risk factors for alcoholism include:

  • Age (According to the NIAA, alcohol use disorder is most common among young adults in the 21-29 age range)
  • Gender (The NIAAA also reports that, among adolescents in the 12-17 range, alcohol use disorder is more than twice as common among girls than among boys. However, among adults 18 and above, the rate of alcoholism is about 39% higher among men than among women.)
  • Personal history of anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns.
  • Having posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other effects of untreated trauma
  • Exposure to overwhelming stress or pressure
  • Growing up among and/or associating with people who regularly abuse alcohol

What About Alcohol Tolerance Being Genetic?

Tolerance is one of the classic signs of addiction. As a person’s body adapts to the presence of alcohol or other addictive substances, the individual finds that they need to use more of the substance to experience the effects that they previously achieved via much smaller doses. 

Developing tolerance is primarily a factor of behavior, as a person must use a substance repeatedly for this to occur. However, as indicated by studies such as a January 2014 report in the journal Molecular Genetics and Genomics, genetic factors can play a role in a person’s sensitivity to alcohol, as well as the rapidity with which they develop tolerance.

Woman learning that her alcoholism and alcohol tolerance may be genetic

How to Overcome Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a chronic disease. This means that the goal of treatment isn’t to cure a person, but instead to help them learn how to manage their symptoms and resist future urges to drink. This is why, instead of talking about overcoming alcoholism, most addiction experts (and people who are working to remain sober) discuss the process as an ongoing recovery effort.

For many people, recovery begins with treatment. People who need treatment have an array of options, including multiple levels of care and several types of therapy.

Levels of Care

Alcoholism treatment may take place at the following levels of care:

Some people may enter and exit treatment at the same level. Others may spend time in several (or even all) of the levels listed above. 

For example, a person begin with a brief stay in detox to rid their body of alcohol, then transition into a 30-day or 90-day residential rehab program to establish a foundation for long-term recovery. After completing residential care, they may step down to a PHP or an IOP for additional support to help them successfully reintegrate into their family and community.

Types of Therapy

The types of therapy that a person receives during treatment for alcoholism can be influenced by several factors. This includes how they have been impacted by addiction, if they have any co-occurring mental health concerns, and which level of care they are currently enrolled in. 

Depending on those and other factors, a person’s alcoholism treatment plan may include elements such as the following:

Other Resources for Alcoholism

After a person completes treatment for alcoholism, their rehab program should provide them with a discharge plan to guide their continued progress. This plan may include information about community-based services and resources that can offer ongoing support for them and their loved ones, such as:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Al-Anon

Contact Our Treatment Center for Alcoholism in Palm Springs, California

If compulsive alcohol abuse has undermined your ability to live a healthy, satisfying life, Phoenix Rising Recovery may be the ideal place for you to begin your journey toward lifelong sobriety. When you choose our alcohol addiction treatment center in Palm Springs, California, you can receive customized services from experienced professionals in a safe and welcoming environment. Our full continuum of care ensures that we can provide you with the best treatment.

When you’re ready to end your alcohol use, the Phoenix Rising Recovery team is here for you. To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact page or call us today.