If you have a parent, grandparent or another close relative with a history of alcohol addiction, you are one among the millions of Americans.
It is true that genetic and epigenetic factors, both of which are inherited from parents and other ancestors, can put you at a greater risk of developing alcoholism. However, that being said, an increased risk doesn’t necessarily mean that you will develop alcohol-related problems.
So, how does genetics play a role in addiction?
All our physical and behavioral traits are majorly dictated by our DNA. Example of a physical trait is the color of your eye. The risk of alcohol consumption is a behavioral feature.
Since your DNA is a composite of your mother’s and father’s DNA, you might get their ‘risk genes’. Similarly, your parents got their DNA from their parents, so it is quite plausible for you to have their risk genes as well. But if one of your grandparents suffered alcoholism, how did your parents not develop it? That leads us to…
Trait inheritance doesn’t mean character development
First answer to this question is that the influencing genes might have skipped your parents. However, there is an equal chance that they had the risky genes and still did not develop alcoholism. How so?
Simply put, inheriting the trait simply means that you are at risk of developing alcoholism, not that you will necessarily have alcoholic tendencies sometime in your life.
Recent developments in biological sciences have paved a way for understanding how this happens. As previously thought, our traits are not fully governed by genes, but the environment has its influence too.
How does the environment affect?
Simply put, you cannot get addicted to alcohol if you have never consumed it. The risk starts and increases with consumption. This is why most people with a history of cardiac diseases in family, consume low fats.
The environment, both internal and external, influences your alcohol consumption. Stress is one of the major factors why people start abusing addictive substances. Another factor can be other people in your surroundings. Friends, colleagues and spouses might not share genetics with you, but their addiction can still influence you.
Strained relationships, career struggles, mental health problems and work life stress are some other triggers.
What can you do then?
Alcoholism is avoidable. Educating yourself about your family history and downside of alcoholism is the first line of prevention. If you have people in your family who, at some point, had issues with alcohol, stay clear of it.
Keep your alcohol consumption minimal, even at parties and other social gatherings. Furthermore, talk to your parents, adults and seek guidance from other people who have similar family history.
Consulting with doctors or counselors may help as well. They will be able to better guide you about the steps you should take to prevent alcohol dependence. If someone in your family is still struggling with alcohol dependence, you can seek our outpatient addiction treatment services for addiction recovery.