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Is alcoholism genetic?

Written by Brandon Okey. Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy.

Genetics plays a major role in the development of alcoholism. According to a 1997 twin study, hereditary factors are responsible for about 64% of the risk for alcohol use disorder (AUD) in men and women.

While genetic predisposition is a significant contributor, it is not the sole determinant of whether a person will develop AUD. Environmental influences, such as family dynamics, peer pressure, and personal experiences, also play a major role in shaping one’s relationship with alcohol.

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Alcohol addiction is unique to every individual. If you are struggling with excessive use, Ardu’s alcohol rehab center is the right place to start your journey toward sobriety.

What percentage of alcoholism is genetics?

Alcoholism is a complex disorder influenced by many factors. Research heavily indicates that genetics account for roughly half of the risk for alcohol dependence. Here’s what we know so far:

  1. A 2013 study identified two genes that contribute to developing alcohol use disorders. Genes ADH1B and ALDH2 produce enzymes that break down alcohol in the body. Certain variations of these genes, such as ADH1B48H and ALDH2504K, cause alcohol to be metabolized more quickly, which builds up a toxic metabolite called acetaldehyde in the body. People with these gene variants tend to drink less and have a much lower risk for alcoholism, with odds ratios ranging from 0.2 to 0.4. People with even one copy of the ALDH2*504K variants (rs671) experience the “Asian flushing reaction” after consuming small amounts of alcohol, causing facial flushing, rapid heartbeat, and nausea. While this reaction deters most from excessive drinking, some people can still consume large quantities of alcohol and develop alcoholism despite these unpleasant effects.
  2. A 2020 study confirmed the strong genetic component of alcoholism, with heritability estimates ranging from 40% to 60%. Other than ADH1B and ALDH2 genes that lead to faster alcohol metabolism and accumulation of acetaldehyde, the study also linked GABRA2, CHRM2, KCNJ6, and AUTS2 genes to heavy drinking. These genes are involved in brain function and reward pathways. While their effects aren’t as strong as those of ADH1B and ALDH2, their variations can still affect how a person responds to alcohol and their likelihood of developing alcohol dependence. 
  3. Pickens, et. al. looked at the role of genetics in the risk of developing alcoholism by comparing identical twins (who share all their genes) and fraternal twins (who share about half their genes). They found that genetics had a modest impact on the overall risk of alcoholism, with genes playing a slightly bigger role in men than in women. Despite the modest influence on alcoholism, the study highlights potential gender differences in the heritability of alcoholism.

It’s not always easy to recognize signs of alcoholism. The first brave step to take is to admit you have a drinking problem, regardless of your family history and genetic predispositions. Ardu Recovery Center provides a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to addiction treatment. We offer a safe and supportive environment to begin your journey to sobriety. 

Contact our alcohol detox center and take the first step towards reclaiming your life and building a healthier, alcohol-free future.

Does alcoholism skip a generation?

Alcoholism does not necessarily skip a generation, but the relationship between genetics, family history, and alcohol use disorder is complex and nuanced.

Alcoholism doesn’t follow a simple pattern of inheritance like some genetic traits. While the genes offer a base for potential alcohol abuse, whether a person will develop a dependency is influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Remember that the research suggests that about half of a person’s risk for developing AUD comes from genetic factors? Its role is significant, but not deterministic.

Even if alcoholism seems to “skip” a generation, the genetic factors can persist. Grandchildren of people with AUD may still have an elevated risk compared to the general population. 

The complex interplay between genes and environment explains why alcoholism can appear to “skip” generations or affect siblings differently, even though they share similar genetic backgrounds. Contrary to popular belief, there is no “alcoholism gene,” the same way the alcoholic personality is a myth. The cumulative impact of genetic variations, combined with different factors, increases a person’s susceptibility to alcoholism.

What other factors contribute to AUD?

Your genes can make you more susceptible to alcohol use disorders, but they’re not the whole story. A complex interplay of different factors also plays a big role in shaping a person’s relationship with alcohol.

  1. Social factors that influence alcohol dependence include:
    1. Peer pressure and social norms: the influence of friends, colleagues, and social groups is a powerful tool in shaping a person’s drinking habits. If heavy drinking is seen as acceptable or even encouraged within a social circle, it can lead to increased alcohol consumption and a higher risk of developing AUDs.
    2. Family environment and upbringing: growing up in a household where alcohol abuse is present can normalize excessive drinking and increase the likelihood of developing AUDs. 
    3. Cultural attitudes towards alcohol: some cultures have more permissive attitudes towards alcohol use, which can influence drinking behaviors. Cultures that view alcohol as a central part of social gatherings or celebrations may have higher rates of AUDs.
    4. Advertising and media influence: exposure to alcohol advertising and media portrayals of drinking may shape attitudes and beliefs about alcohol, particularly among youth. Excessive drinking is often glamorized or normalized in the media, which contributes to the development of AUDs.
  2. Environmental factors also shape a person’s risk for alcoholism.
    1. Availability and accessibility of alcohol: the ease with which people can obtain alcohol can impact drinking patterns. A high density of alcohol outlets, low alcohol prices, and weak alcohol control policies increase the availability and accessibility of alcohol.
    2. Socioeconomic factors: lower socioeconomic status, unemployment, and lack of education have been associated with higher rates of AUDs. These factors contribute to stress, limited access to resources, and fewer alternative coping mechanisms, which may lead to increased alcohol use.
  3. Other factors include: 
    1. Stress and coping mechanisms: people who experience chronic stress, whether from work, relationships, or other life circumstances, may turn to alcohol as a means of coping. 
    2. Mental health disorders: pre-existing mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), increase the likelihood of developing AUDs. People may use alcohol to self-medicate or alleviate the symptoms of these disorders, leading to a vicious cycle of alcohol misuse and worsening mental health.
    3. Age of first alcohol use: early initiation of alcohol consumption, particularly during adolescence when the brain is still developing, increases the risk of alcoholism later in life. The earlier an individual starts drinking, the more likely they are to develop problematic drinking patterns.
    4. Trauma and adverse life events: experiencing traumatic events, such as physical or sexual abuse, or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as neglect or household dysfunction, increases the risk of developing AUDs. 

Many people who battle alcohol addiction drink not because they want to, but because they feel they need to. This puts their drinking problem beyond their rational control. At Ardu, we can help you identify alcoholism by recognizing this lack of control and regaining control of your life.

If you’re ready to take the first step toward a healthier, alcohol-free life, contact Ardu Recovery Center

Is alcoholism a disease?

According to the disease model of addiction, alcoholism is a brain disease, mainly because it aligns with many characteristics of chronic medical conditions. The disease model of addiction views alcoholism as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder that involves compulsive substance use and loss of control. 

According to the disease model of addiction:

  • Addiction causes long-lasting changes in brain structure and function. It affects reward pathways, learning processes, memory formation, and impulse control, even after detoxification.
  • The condition worsens over time, negatively impacting behavior, relationships, and overall health.
  • Treatment strategies focus on managing addiction through a combination of medication, therapy, support networks, and lifestyle adjustments. The primary goals are to help people regain control, address cravings and withdrawal, and prevent chronic relapses.
  • Not everyone who uses substances becomes addicted. A combination of genetic predisposition, developmental factors, and environmental influences contribute to addiction vulnerability.
  • Alcoholism can be clinically assessed using the established diagnostic criteria outlined in medical references such as The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). This frames addiction as a diagnosable illness rather than solely a social problem.

While the disease model reduces stigma and supports medical interventions, it is also criticized for potentially oversimplifying a complex issue and neglecting personal responsibility and environmental factors.

Only a small fraction of people who need addiction treatment seek help—according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), just 6.8%. Don’t let yourself be part of that statistic. 

We offer comprehensive care for both drug and alcohol addiction. Our drug rehabilitation program provides a supportive, compassionate environment where you can achieve long-lasting recovery. For those struggling with alcohol dependence, our specialized alcohol rehab offers personalized treatment plans based on proven, evidence-based approaches. 

Reach out to Ardu Recovery Center.

Get help with Ardu Recovery Center

Ardu Recovery Center provides the perfect healing environment for those struggling with addiction. Our modern medical facilities in Provo, Utah, deliver cutting-edge, evidence-based care—from detox and therapy to aftercare planning. 

We offer a full range of recovery programs and addiction resources.

  • We help you get to the heart of your alcoholism and fully grasp the effects of alcohol; this gives you additional motivation to overcome the addiction.
  • With psychotherapy and other modalities, you learn healthy coping skills so you aren’t tempted to rely on alcohol. Different therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), allow you to find the modality that resonates with you.
  • In a caring group setting, group therapy allows you to gain healthy social skills and build a network of support.
  • If your family wants to participate in your recovery, we offer family therapy sessions for healing your family unit and rebuilding trust and support.
  • If you have a co-occurring disorder or condition—such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder—our dual diagnosis program addresses both your alcohol addiction and your other mental health issues.
  • Not only do we offer full medical detox services, but our addiction treatment program also features holistic modalities such as yoga, nutritional therapy, and many other methods to help you regain balance and undo the effects of alcohol.

Chronic drinking can have detrimental health effects. If you or a loved one are struggling with an alcohol use disorder, reach out to us and discuss your unique needs before the addiction claims your life. We are here to listen and explain the treatment options available. 

Brandon Okey

Brandon Okey is the co-founder of Ardu Recovery Center and is dedicated to empowering people on their journey to sobriety.

Alcoholism genetic FAQ

What are the four types of wives of alcoholics?

While it’s important to avoid overgeneralizing, research has identified four common coping patterns among wives of alcoholics: 

  1. The Suffering Martyr, who endures silently
  2. The Controlling Wife, who tries to manage her husband’s drinking
  3. The Wavering Wife, who fluctuates between enabling and confronting
  4. The Punitive Wife, who becomes resentful and retaliatory

These aren’t fixed categories, and many women may shift between patterns. Each situation is unique, and support is available for partners of alcoholics regardless of their coping style.

Who is most susceptible to alcoholism?

Susceptibility to alcoholism is influenced by a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Those with a family history of alcoholism, especially close relatives, have a higher risk. Other high-risk groups include people with mental health disorders, those who start drinking at an early age, and people experiencing high levels of stress or trauma. Certain personality traits, such as impulsivity or low self-esteem, can also increase susceptibility. Anyone can develop alcoholism, regardless of background, character traits, or predisposition.

Does alcohol change DNA?

While alcohol doesn’t directly alter your DNA sequence, it can affect how your genes are expressed through a process called epigenetics. Chronic alcohol use can lead to changes in DNA methylation and histone modification, and this can alter gene activity. These epigenetic changes can affect many important biological processes, including metabolism and brain function. 

Alcohol consumption directly impacts DNA molecules in the nucleus with toxic chemicals that tear at the strands and scramble codes. Your cells become disrupted and confused, so they are no longer sure how to fulfill their duties properly. Cancer Research UK reveals that acetaldehyde damages the DNA within cells, leading to deadly mutation, irreversible genetic damage to the body’s reserve of stem cells, and increased cancer risk.

Oxidative stress occurs when harmful free radicals overwhelm the body’s antioxidant defenses, leading to damage to proteins, cell membranes, and DNA. According to Wu and Cederbaum, both acute and chronic alcohol consumption can increase the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), exacerbating oxidative stress and causing peroxidation of essential cellular components like lipids, proteins, and DNA.

Is alcoholism a mental disease?

Alcoholism is classified as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It’s characterized by impaired control over alcohol use, despite negative consequences. Like other mental disorders, alcoholism involves changes in brain function and behavior. It often co-occurs with other mental health conditions. The disease model of addiction views alcoholism as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder. 

Why do I have a naturally high alcohol tolerance?

A naturally high alcohol tolerance can be influenced by several factors. 

  1. Genetics plays a significant role. Some people inherit enzymes that metabolize alcohol more efficiently. 
  2. Body size and composition matter too. Larger individuals generally have more blood to dilute alcohol. 
  3. Your drinking history is also crucial. Regular drinkers often develop tolerance over time. 
  4. Other factors include gender (men typically have higher tolerance), ethnicity (some Asian populations have lower tolerance due to genetic variations), and overall health. 

While high tolerance might seem advantageous, it can be risky because it may lead to consuming harmful amounts of alcohol without immediate negative effects.

What gender are most alcoholics?

Historically, men have been more likely to develop alcoholism than women. This gap has been narrowing in recent years. According to current statistics, men still have higher rates of alcohol use disorders, but women are catching up, especially among younger age groups. 

Women often face different challenges with alcohol, including faster progression of the disease and greater health risks at lower consumption levels. Societal factors, stress, and changing drinking norms contribute to these trends. Regardless of gender, alcoholism is a serious condition that requires professional help and support.

How many years of drinking is bad?

The negative impacts of alcohol depend on a person’s consumption patterns, genetic predisposition, and overall health. Chronic heavy drinking, defined as 8+ drinks per week for women or 15+ for men, can lead to significant health problems within 5–10 years. Binge drinking (5+ drinks in 2 hours for men, 4+ for women) can cause immediate harm. 

Long-term alcohol abuse increases risks of liver disease, cardiovascular problems, and certain cancers. The Framingham Heart Study found that more than 10 years of heavy drinking significantly raised mortality risk. Even moderate drinking over many years can have cumulative effects on health.

How bad is alcohol for you?

Alcohol’s negative effects are dose-dependent and impact multiple body systems. Certain genetic effects increase the risk of alcohol dependence and related disorders. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that chronic heavy drinking is associated with over 200 diseases, including liver cirrhosis, cardiovascular problems, and increased cancer risk. 

Environmental contributions, such as easy access to alcohol, can exacerbate these risks. Population-based samples show that alcohol abuse significantly increases the incidence of psychiatric disorders and mental illness. A 2019 study posits that the prevalence of most mood, anxiety, substance, and thought disorders is higher in people with alcohol use disorder than in the general population.

Does alcohol cause schizophrenia?

Alcohol doesn’t directly cause schizophrenia, but research indicates a complex relationship between alcohol use and psychiatric disorders. Studies have identified shared genetic risk factors that may underlie both alcohol dependence and schizophrenia. The risk of alcohol use can exacerbate symptoms and increase the likelihood of psychotic episodes in vulnerable individuals. While alcohol isn’t a direct cause, it’s a significant risk factor for mental health issues, including psychotic disorders. 

Is alcohol a depressant?

Alcohol is classified as a central nervous system depressant according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Alcohol slows brain activity and neural transmission by enhancing the effects of GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter, and decreasing glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter. 

Research on alcohol-related phenotypes shows biphasic effects: initial stimulation due to increased dopamine, followed by depressant effects including impaired cognition and motor skills. Genetic risks and variations in alcohol metabolism, particularly among East Asian populations, can affect individual responses. Chronic use may lead to persistent changes in neurotransmitter systems, contributing to the risk of alcohol dependence and related psychiatric disorders.


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