Is Alcoholism Genetic or Hereditary? Is Alcoholism Genetic or Hereditary_

Affecting over 1.5 million adults in the United States, alcoholism is one of the most prevalent addictions in the country. Alcoholism can be a fatal disease, sometimes ending in liver disease or cancer of the mouth, esophagus, larynx, liver, and breast. The fatality of alcoholism claims close to 90,000 lives each year, making it the fourth preventable cause of death in the United States.

With statistics as grim as these, many individuals are left wondering what factors influenced their alcoholism in the first place. Like many drug addictions, alcohol abuse can be triggered by a traumatic life event or major stressor, as well as environmental factors and elements of habit. But what about genetics? Genetics do play a role in influencing alcoholism in the next generation, however it may not be as large of a role as you would think.

What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a serious disease that affects millions of Americans. It can be defined as addiction to alcohol, or the inability to control the amount or frequency of alcohol consumption. Generally stemming from a history of alcohol abuse, alcoholism is on the most severe end of the spectrum of alcohol use disorder, as defined by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Is Alcoholism Genetic or Hereditary_ 90,000 LivesAlcohol abuse, which is generally a more manageable stage of alcohol use disorder, can lead into alcoholism if a lifestyle change or intervention is not taken at this point. Alcohol abuse is defined as reckless or risky behavior associated with drinking, heavy drinking or binge drinking, and planning events or activities around the consumption of alcohol. At this stage, a physical dependency may not be present, but a behavioral dependence and habitual addiction can quickly define your lifestyle. It is much easier to quit drinking at this stage than it is once alcoholism takes its toll.

Like alcohol abuse, alcoholism is not defined by the amount or frequency of an individual’s alcohol consumption, but rather the behavior associated with it. People who suffer from alcoholism may find that they are unable to control how much and how often they consume alcohol, and they may feel withdrawal symptoms after they stop drinking for a short period of time.

It is not uncommon for alcoholics to lie to close friends and family regarding their alcohol use, and often times they are able to function very well in their lives, even while drinking heavily. Physical dependence will be present at this point, and alcoholics will often tailor their lives to work around their alcoholism. The destructive behaviors of an alcoholic will often present themselves before the physical side effects can take their toll on the body.

Alcoholism is considered a disease, and for good reason. It not just a bad habit or lack of willpower, but rather an illness that can completely consume an individual, leaving them little control over their own lives. It is seen more frequently in adults with a history of childhood abuse or trauma, however can affect an individual of any background, race, age, or gender. It is also seen more often in individuals with a family history of alcoholism or alcohol abuse, however this can be traced back to environmental influence as well as genetics.

The Four Symptoms Of Alcoholism

There are four main symptoms of alcoholism that define the boundary between alcohol abuse and alcoholism. While these symptoms can have varying levels of severity, they are indicative of a chemical dependency the body has developed to the drug. These four symptoms include:


A craving is a strong urge or desire to do or consume something. With alcohol, this urge can become more intense during times of high stress or emotion. This type of craving would be considered a coping mechanism, which means your brain responds to certain triggers with a desire to drown them out with alcohol. Cravings can make alcoholism difficult to overcome, as many emotions are tied to them and it is usually not as simple as saying “no, I will not drink that”.


Tolerance is generally a sign of the over consumption of any drug, as it indicates that the body has adjusted to a certain level of drugs in your system. When consuming alcohol for a period of time, your body will consider a certain level of alcohol to be the new ‘norm’, requiring more alcohol to reach a feeling of drunkenness. This can be a difficult cycle to break, as more alcohol is required to obtain the same feeling that brought an individual to drink alcohol in the first place.

Loss of Control

Loss of control can also be a sign of severe alcohol abuse, but is especially prevalent in alcoholism. With alcoholism, the chemical and behavioral dependency on alcohol is too great to overcome with willpower alone. It is not uncommon for alcoholics to report the inability to control their drinking despite a strong desire not to.

Physical Dependence

Last but certainly not least, alcohol is a physically addictive drug. It is so physically addictive that in some cases, withdrawal symptoms from stopping the consumption of alcohol can be severe enough to be fatal. While many aspects of alcoholism can be attributed to emotions and behavior, physical dependence is entirely chemical and cannot be helped through therapy or counseling. Often times, medical detox is recommended to help an individual detox from alcohol safely with as few health risks as possible.

Inheriting Genes vs Inheriting Habits

There have been many studies conducted in the United States regarding alcoholism and its relationship to genetics. While many of these results have been inconclusive, it has been established that alcoholism is indeed a genetic disease, but cannot be measured statistically like other genetic diseases because environmental, behavioral, and emotional factors play such a large role in the outcome of an individual.

According to a study done at the Indiana University School of Medicine, children with one or more alcoholic parents have a 2-4 fold higher chance of becoming an alcoholic as an adult. However, surveys performed by this same study indicate that less than half of these children actually develop alcoholism. According to Howard J. Edenburg who lead the study, the risk of alcoholism is shaped by two facts:

  1. Risk is affected by genes
  2. Risk is affected by choice

Arguably, the second fact is indicative of environmental factors chosen by the parent, as we agree that no one willingly chooses to become an alcoholic. Children of alcoholics not only share the same genes as their parents, but also the same environment. If a child sees a parent drinking openly and often, this can influence their perception of the role alcohol plays in the life of an individual. Is Alcoholism Genetic or Hereditary_ 2-4 Fold Higher Chance

It is not uncommon for children of alcoholics to come from a dysfunctional home, sometimes leading to abuse or emotional distress. These traumatic emotional triggers can contribute to the chances of developing a substance abuse issue or addiction down the road. Children of alcoholics are also more likely to partake in underage drinking, which can greatly increase the chance of developing alcoholism as an adult.

So is alcoholism genetic? The short answer is yes – to an extent. There has been a gene isolated that has a strong association with alcoholism. However, the effect of gene-environmental interactions must also be taken into account when considering the impact of alcoholism and genetics.

Get Help Today

If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one when it comes to alcohol abuse or alcoholism, the sooner you reach out for help the more likely you are to make a full recovery. Especially when taking a family history of alcoholism into account, professional intervention is often necessary to assist with safe detox from alcohol as well as inpatient therapy to treat the emotional and behavioral aspects of alcohol addiction.

Our addiction treatment specialists are experts when it comes to choosing an alcohol treatment program that fits your needs and expectations. Many of our programs can be custom tailored to fit you, which can lead to better outcomes and a full recovery. Our specialists are available to talk around the clock, and your call is always confidential. Call today and let us help you get started with your recovery.

If you or a loved one is battling a Percocet or any prescription opioid addiction, contact us now!

For More Information Related to “Is Alcoholism Genetic or Hereditary?” Be Sure To Check Out These Additional Resources From


Sources – Genetics of Alcoholism
Journal of Molecular Psychiatry – Genetics and Epigenetics of Alcohol Dependence
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism – A Family’s History of Alcoholism
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism – Drinking Levels Defined
National Institute of Health – Genetics and Alcoholism

Gene Therapy For Addiction

Gene Therapy For Addiction

A person’s vulnerability to addiction is based on certain developmental, environmental, and genetic components. Each person’s genetic code influences how their body and brain responds to a specific drug of abuse. Gene therapy for addiction focuses on altering certain genetic components as a way to prevent and fight addiction.

Gene Therapy For Addiction_Genetic Manipulation

Scientists are diligently working to unlock ways to manipulate genetics to create new therapies to fight addiction. While this may seem like something out of a science fiction movie, the technology and real world applications are closer than you think.

What Are Genes?

Experts believe that each of us has roughly 20,000 to 25,000 genes. While the majority of these genes are the same person to person, it’s estimated that less than one percent are unique to each person. Genes carry information from parents to their children. Every individual’s genetic code is like a blueprint or a how-to manual that tells our brain and body how to function.

This embedded information dictates our physical, physiological, mental, and even emotional characteristics. From small things like our hair color to a life-changing predisposition for a disease (including addiction), our genes shape who we are, for better or for worse. Our genes are also like keys—they lock or unlock helpful or harmful processes within our body and brain which impact our health and wellness.

How Do Genes Influence Addiction?

According to Dr. Joni Rutter, director of the Division of Basic Neuroscience and Behavioral Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse “genetic factors account for about 40 to 60 percent of a person’s vulnerability to drug addiction.” Put this way, it becomes clear why it’s so important to understand and research this subject.

Gene Therapy For Addiction_Genetic Factors

While addiction is a disease, its genetic makeup is far more complex than many other diseases. Some diseases result from only one genetic malfunction. Addiction, on the other hand, is like a complex, interlocking puzzle which contains many genetic pieces. Scientists are still learning exactly how our genes drive biological and molecular processes linked to addiction.

What Is Gene Therapy?

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Genetics Home Reference (GHR), “gene therapy is an experimental technique that uses genes to treat or prevent disease.” To create these therapies, scientists manipulate or alter DNA within certain genes. The GHR continues, telling us that gene therapy research focuses on several approaches, including:

  • Replacing a mutated gene that causes disease with a healthy copy of the gene.
  • Inactivating, or “knocking out,” a mutated gene that is functioning improperly.
  • Introducing a new gene into the body to help fight a disease.

Currently, research is focused on animal test subjects such as mice or rats and not humans. Eventually, researchers hope to streamline certain methods which may be used successfully within humans. Many medicines and treatments have followed similar paths before they were able to help you or a loved one within your everyday life.

How Does Gene Therapy Work?

How do scientists change these genes? After scientists isolate a certain gene they want to alter, they work to begin changing it outside of the subject’s body. Now they have to get the genetic information into the subject. Some scientists have studied how nanotechnology might help to deliver this genetic information. Another common method of gene therapy begins with a benign virus (one which can no longer cause harm or illness).

The virus acts as a transport vehicle for the altered genetic information, carrying it to the appropriate place within the body or brain, often through injection. Once there, the genetic information is like a traffic cop—it begins to start, stop, and/or direct certain processes to create the desired outcome.

Gene Therapy For Addiction_Gene Therapy(1)

Many of the chemical and genetic components which regulate addiction reside in our brains. Dopamine is a brain chemical which stimulates the reward-processing parts of our brains. Using addictive substances creates a surge of this chemical. Prolonged drug abuse actually makes it harder for the brain to produce this chemical on its own. Certain types of gene therapy focus on helping the brain produce more of this chemical. In theory, this could decrease a user’s need for an addictive substance.

What Types Of Addiction Could Gene Therapy Treat?

Because research is still progressing, it’s not certain what drugs of abuse these methods might target down the road. But scientists are hopeful these methods may someday be able to treat many aspects and types of addiction. One major focus is on turning off the pleasurable or rewarding effects of a drug so that a person doesn’t desire to keep using them.

Current research outlines some possible applications for these therapies:


One study outlined how an altered gene could be used to prevent relapse. Once within our bodies, this gene would produce a variant of a naturally occurring enzyme called BChE. This enzyme splits cocaine into “two harmless compounds.” According to NIDA this action “will prevent euphoria, reduce motivation for subsequent cocaine use, and shield the patient from the cocaine’s toxic and addictive effects.”


Researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science conducted a study on viral-delivered gene therapy on mice. These “antimeth antibody-based therapies” isolate and block the meth from reaching the areas in the brain where the drug works to create a high.


Another study found that a certain gene turned off an enzyme which metabolizes alcohol. Without it, a person would experience very uncomfortable effects when they drank. This gene decreased what was essentially binge drinking by half in rats who had been bred to be heavy drinkers. Scientists believe that while this method may not create full abstinence, it could be useful in harm reduction in social drinking.

ScienceDaily reported on another study led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. It used genetic therapy to increase dopamine receptors within rat subject’s brains. This method showed favorable results in regards to both alcohol and cocaine. In the latter, self-administration of cocaine was reduced by 75 percent. ScienceDaily reported that the study’s lead author Panayotis Thanos “hypothesized that the same would hold true with other addictive drugs.”

Is Gene Therapy Used Within Addiction Treatment?

Currently, gene therapy is not used within addiction treatment. The genetics behind addiction are so complex that these therapies are still within the research stages. The GHR cautions that gene therapy “remains risky and is still under study to make sure that it will be safe and effective.”

In 2014, NIDA’s Dr. Rutter maintained that “using gene therapy to actually treat drug addiction is a long way off, however, and probably not a main goal.” This does not mean that research on the subject won’t continue. In time, some of these methods may be refined and adapted as treatments which target addiction in humans.

We Can Help You Find Evidenced-Based Treatment

While gene therapy may not an option at this time, there are many other evidence-based addiction treatment programs that exist. Every person has different needs within treatment, and we can help you to identify these and create an individualized recovery plan. Contact one of our treatment specialists today.

If you or a loved one is battling addiction, contact us now!

For More Information Related to “Gene Therapy For Addiction” Be Sure To Check Out These Additional Resources From



U.S. National Library of Medicine — What is a gene?
National Institute on Drug Abuse — Dr. Joni Rutter Q&A: How Basic Science Is Tackling Addiction

Is Addiction Genetic Or Environmental?

Is Addiction Genetic Or Environmental?

We have not always known that addiction is a disease. Research within the last few decades has shown, again and again, that addiction is a disease resulting from substance abuse which affects the brain. When substance abuse advances to addiction, the brain causes a person to compulsively seek substances. This compulsion may lead to little or no regard for other things in a person’s life, such as responsibilities, values, and more. Thus begins the continuous cycle of addiction.

Now that research and modern medicine alike recognize addiction as a disease, another question presents itself: is addiction genetic or environmental? In other words, are people predisposed to addiction, or do they fall victim to addiction because of their surroundings? Because research suggests that addiction is a disease, it is important to know if there are underlying things (such as genes or environmental factors) that can cause it. The answer to these questions is not a simple one, but does give an idea of what may cause addiction, and, perhaps most importantly, ways to prevent and treat it.

What Are Addiction Genes?

Is Addiction Genetic Or Environmental? Genetic MakeupThe Genetic Science Learning Center explains that, “when scientists look for ‘addiction genes,’ what they are really looking for is biological differences that may make someone more or less vulnerable to addiction.” Further, certain genes may make it easier or harder for some people to stop use. But the important thing to remember is that, though some genes may make a person more susceptible to addiction, “someone’s genetic makeup will never doom them to inevitably become an addict.”

The unfortunate thing about the genes which affect substance abuse likelihood is that there is no single trait that determines a person’s vulnerability to addiction. Instead, a person’s chances of being affected are influenced by a number of genetic traits (and environmental factors as well). Addiction is a complex disease, so pinning down any specific genetic traits which impact it may be difficult. In addition, like many genetic traits, not everyone will carry the same addiction traits. Even if a person carries certain traits which make him or her susceptible to addiction, that person will not necessarily fall victim to addiction.

However, Neuroathropology states that, “the bulk of research suggests that drug dependence functions much like other diseases, with certain people having a genetic makeup that increases their risk.” Studies of identical twins, for example, show that some genes which affect addiction vulnerability do affect people more than other genes. Essentially, “if genetic makeup influences the risk for a disease, identical twins… will tend to display concordant behavior; that is, either both will have the disease or neither will develop the disease.” This correlation has proven true in several studies. What part of addiction do genetics affect, then?

Is Addiction Genetic Or Environmental? Twins

An article in the U.S. National Library of Medicine explains that addiction genes can be inherited on a range from moderate to high. Simply stated, the higher the amount of genes which cause vulnerability to addiction, the more a person is susceptible to addiction. Further, an individual’s risk of being affected by addiction, “tends to be proportional to the degree of genetic relationship to an addicted relative.” This is why identical twins will both likely fall victim to addiction if they have the genes, and one of them develops an addiction; they share a genetic makeup. Nonetheless, studies of heritage and shared genetics have found that environmental factors also play a role.

What Are Addiction Environmental Factors?

Studies which determine people’s vulnerability to addiction measure a number of “addictive agents,” according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. These include:

  • Culture
  • Social policy
  • Religion
  • Economic status
  • Exposure to substances

When studies measure the reactions of certain genes and the effect they have on a person’s tendency towards addiction, the studies are conducted in a controlled environment. For example, twin studies measure twins who are growing up in (usually) the same household, with the same environmental factors, including exposure to substances and other environmental factors.

Is Addiction Genetic Or Environmental? Protective Factors

There are social situations which make a person more at risk for prolonged substance abuse, such as lack of parental involvement or care during childhood, poverty, and troubles with education early on. Protective factors can change the course of these risks for the person affected. But, a person who has both genetic agents present which affect addiction, and is also exposed to an environment which puts him or her at risk for addiction, is more likely to develop addiction than others who do not share the same genetic and environmental risks.

Some of the environmental situations which largely correlate to addiction are triggers, which make it hard for a person to resist the call of substance abuse, such as:

  • A local bar, for those affected by an alcohol addiction.
  • The place or the social settings where a person first abused substances: it may be harder for a person to resist abuse when under these influences.
  • People—friends or family who engage in substance abuse may have both led a person to first use substances, and may contribute to prolonged abuse, making it hard to stop.

What Can You Do To Prevent Addiction?

What is clear here, is that addiction may result from any combination of genetic and environmental factors. People may not necessarily be affected by addiction if they have many genetic traits which makes them susceptible, or if they grew up in a substance-heavy environment filled with social factors that predispose them to substance abuse—but they are more likely to in that situation. Likewise, people could have very few genetic traits which dispose them to substance abuse, grow up in an environment far from addiction, and still develop an addiction. There is no single cause of addiction.

What can be done in the face of such troubling facts is prevention. Prevention can begin early; in fact, it is important to have protective factors in place early on to better ensure a person’s defense against addiction. For example, making sure that children grow up in a stable environment, free from substance abuse, with access to necessary education is a great preventative method.

For those who have fallen victim to addiction there may also be hope. The more people recognize that addiction is a disease which requires adequate treatment, the better chance people have at properly treating it. Treatment is available in many forms, through many methods.

Inpatient drug treatment allows a person to recover in a facility with professional or medical assistance if needed. Outpatient therapy may provide access to these things on a limited basis, however, it will offer counseling for continued care. Medications help people with the harrowing withdrawal process, or may help people wean off certain potent substances without the high risk of dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Treatment is no easy process, but is available to those who need it.

How Can You Get Help For Substance Abuse?

Contact us if you or a loved are considering treatment.Did you grow up in the presence of substance abuse? Or do you have a family member close to you who struggled with addiction? Whether you have been affected genetically or environmentally, you can get help for substance abuse and addiction. Contact us today at to find out how we can help you on the road to recovery.

American Society Of Addiction Medicine—Definition Of Addiction
Genetic Science Learning Center—Genes And Addiction
Neuroanthropology—The Genetic And Environmental Bases Of Addiction
U.S. National Library of Medicine—Genes And Addictions