Understanding the Genetic Factors for Alcoholism
Alcohol addiction often appears to run in families, and scientific research has shown that genetics play a key role in the development of alcoholism. Some conditions, such as cystic fibrosis, are caused by a problem with a single gene. Alcoholism and drug addiction, on the other hand, are known as genetically complex diseases.
No “addiction” gene has been identified; instead, multiple genes tend to be affected in cases of these diseases. Research indicates that genetic factors account for about half of the overall risk for alcoholism in an individual. Environmental, cultural and psychological factors are responsible for the remainder of the risk.
Alcoholism by the Numbers
Statistics serve to reinforce the link between genetics and alcoholism. One study indicates that sons of alcoholic fathers have four times the risk of developing the disease compared with sons of non-alcoholic parents.
Although some of this elevated risk can be attributed to parental attitudes toward substance use, genetics clearly play a significant role; even when the biological child of an alcoholic parent is adopted into a non-alcoholic family, the increased risk of alcoholism remains. Studies of twins also reveal a significant genetic influence on the development of alcohol and drug addiction.
Even if you have a strong family history of alcoholism, addiction doesn’t have to be a life sentence. The good news is that effective treatment is available. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment for alcoholism, and different techniques will work better for different people. Most alcohol treatment programs include counseling and behavioral therapies, including:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: The goal of this form of therapy is to identify the thought patterns that lead to problem drinking and developing the coping skills to deal with triggers and temptations.
- Motivational enhancement therapy: This short-term therapy is designed to strengthen a person’s motivation to seek treatment and help them develop the skills needed to stick to a treatment plan.
- Family counseling: Therapy sessions that include spouses and family members can help repair relationships that were damaged by addiction.
In some cases, certain medications can help people who are recovering from alcohol addiction; these non-addictive drugs can help individuals manage the chronic disease of alcoholism and avoid a relapse. Naltrexone and Disulfiram are two examples of drugs that have been approved for use in the treatment of alcoholism.
It’s clear that genetics are responsible for some of a person’s alcoholism risk, but they’re not the only risk factor. Environmental and psychological factors also play a role, and treatment can help you overcome the disease of alcoholism regardless of your individual risk factors. You can break free of your addiction and live the life you want.