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),
That’s around 14.1 million adults. Additionally, about
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
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.
Many different traits, including some heritable ones, may play a role.
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.
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:
- tachycardia (fast heart rate)
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.
The gene variations that result in things like nausea, headaches, and skin flushing with alcohol consumption may be more
Other than genetics, there are a number of risk factors for developing alcohol use disorder.
- engaging in heavy drinking or binge drinking
- beginning to drink alcohol at an early age
- experiencing childhood trauma
- witnessing violence or trauma at an early age
- having a mental health condition, such as clinical depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- having a neurodevelopmental disorder, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
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
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.