Genetics may play a role in alcohol use disorder (AUD), but other factors might also contribute to the development of this condition.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a condition where it’s difficult to stop drinking alcohol, even when it affects your work, relationships, and health.

Alcohol use disorder used to be referred to as alcoholism, alcohol addiction, or alcohol abuse. This condition affects several brain systems, which can cause some people to form a physical dependency on alcohol.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 5.6% of adults in the United States were living with alcohol use disorder in 2019.

That’s around 14.1 million adults. Additionally, about 1.7% of adolescents ages 12 to 17 were reported as having alcohol use disorder in 2019.

Many people wonder about the causes of alcohol use disorder and whether it’s genetic. While genes could have an influence on whether someone develops alcohol use disorder, environmental factors can also play a role.

Alcohol use disorder can be hereditary or genetic, which means it can run in families. Children of people with AUD may be 2-6 times more likely to develop problems with alcohol use when compared to those whose parents do not have alcohol use disorder.

However, the causes of AUD go beyond genetics and can be quite complex. AUD doesn’t form because of a single gene, nor are genetics the only reason why someone develops an alcohol use disorder.

The NIAAA points out that genes are only responsible for about half the risk of developing AUD. Environmental factors can also play a role in determining whether someone develops this condition.

Some people may have a genetic predisposition to alcohol use disorder. You may be more likely to develop this condition if you have a history of the condition in your family.

There isn’t one single “alcohol use disorder gene.” Rather, there are many different genes that may influence whether someone develops an alcohol use disorder.

As one 2015 article in Nature points out, researchers have not been able to identify a single gene that determines whether or not you develop an addiction.

Many different traits, including some heritable ones, may play a role.

But while research is still ongoing to identify causative and protective genes for alcohol use disorder, it is not currently routine practice to test for these genes.

Only a small number of medical conditions can be identified by genetic testing right now, such as:

  • Down Syndrome
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Sickle Cell Disease

Living with inherited mental health conditions may increase the likelihood of developing alcohol use disorder.

Some mental health conditions may be a risk factor for developing alcohol use disorder, including clinical depression and schizophrenia, which also have a genetic component.

Yes. If alcohol tends to make you feel ill, it could be because of a genetic component.

According to a 2019 review, the genes ADH1B and ALDH2 may affect the way our bodies metabolize alcohol, causing symptoms like:

ADH1B and ALDH2 may also protect against both alcohol consumption and alcohol use disorder.

If drinking alcohol makes you feel ill, you may be more likely to avoid alcohol in the first place, which can reduce the chances of developing alcohol use disorder.

Because of this, people with the genes ADH1B and ALDH2 might be less likely to develop the condition than those without it.

Genetic demographics

The gene variations that result in things like nausea, headaches, and skin flushing with alcohol consumption may be more common in those of Asian or Jewish descent. These groups typically have a lower risk of developing alcohol use disorder compared to other populations.

Other than genetics, there are a number of risk factors for developing alcohol use disorder.

Some risk factors can include:

Research has suggested that it’s a combination of the above risk factors as well as genetics that could determine whether or not you develop alcohol use disorder.

This isn’t to say that people who have experienced the above will definitely develop alcohol use disorder. These factors may just make some people more likely to develop the condition.

If you are living with alcohol use disorder, know that you are not alone and that there are treatment options.

Many people seek medical treatment for AUD and may work with a therapist to learn coping strategies to minimize alcohol cravings and triggers.

Visiting your doctor is often the best first step in seeking treatment, since AUD can be fatal if left medically untreated. You can use the NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator to find treatment options in your area, or call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357) to find support.

You might also find it helpful to confide in a trusted loved one whose support can be instrumental in your recovery. Reaching out to others can be helpful, too. You could also look for support groups online or in your area for people with substance use disorders.