FE9D29B3-F346-4682-8D3C-A2B9B0FB6D7D Created with sketchtool.

Is Alcoholism Genetic, Environmental, Cultural, or Something Else Altogether?

March 12, 2021

Written by

The Meadows

LinkedIn logo

Categories

Tags

By Christa Banister

It’s no secret that alcohol consumption — a glass of wine with dinner, beers during the big game, champagne to toast a special event — is a regular, socially acceptable part of many people’s lives.

Not surprisingly, it’s become increasingly popular during the pandemic, with alcohol consumption up by 14%.

While light to moderate drinking doesn’t typically raise too many alarm bells for healthy adults, what exactly pushes someone into the category of struggling with alcoholism?

What separates the man or woman who enjoys a drink here and there from someone who meets the criteria for excessive alcohol consumption? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that for men, excessive alcohol use is defined by five or more drinks binged during a single occasion or 15 or more drinks per week. For women, it’s four or more drinks binged during a single occasion or eight or more drinks per week.

But a myriad of factors are responsible for the development of alcoholism. Even genetics can play a role in whether someone becomes addicted to alcohol.

For many, alcohol dependence begins early and is influenced by peer behavior.

Genetics and Alcoholism

It’s no secret that when it comes to alcoholism, a complex genetic disease, history has often repeated itself in many families. That said, is there any scientific evidence that someone’s propensity to become an alcoholic depends on their parents, siblings, or grandparents struggling with alcoholism?

A number of experts have agreed there is a hereditary connection. Research conducted by the National Institute of Health has shown, however, that the tendency of repeated alcohol abuse in families isn’t enough to support the genetic argument on its own.

While there is no gene for alcoholism, there are studies that point to genetic contributions. For example, adoption studies have shown that adoptees who’ve struggled with alcohol dependence align more with the trend of their biological parents rather than their adoptive parents.

In a recent genomic study of nearly 275,000 people by Penn Medicine researchers, there were new discoveries about what specific genes were commonly present in people who struggled with alcohol use disorder (AUD). There were 18 significant genetic variants associated with heavy alcohol consumption, AUD, or both. Notably, while five of the variants overlapped, eight were only associated with consumption — and five with AUD only.

The conclusion? While heavy drinking was certainly a prerequisite for AUD, scientists concluded that variants in several genes — DRD2 and SIX3, for example — may need to be present for people to develop AUD.

A myriad of factors are responsible for the development of alcoholism. Even genetics can play a role in whether someone becomes addicted to alcohol.

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a Meadows Senior Fellow and psychiatrist and author who specializes in trauma, believes that parental trauma that is left unaddressed can trickle down to their children. Basically, if you can help parents with their problems, including alcoholism, you can help their kids down the road.

“If your parents’ faces never lit up when they looked at you, it’s hard to know what it feels like to be loved and cherished,” van der Kolk says. “Neglect creates mental maps used by children, and their adult selves, to survive. These maps skew their view of themselves and the world.”

Alcoholism and Environment and Culture

Alcoholism and Environment and Culture - The Meadows

In exploring the underlying reasons for what causes one in three Americans to drink too much, a study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Review suggests a person’s income level plays a role in the push and pull of genes and the environment.

For the study, researchers investigated data from 672 pairs of adult twins who were interviewed twice, a decade apart. Some of the twin pairs were identical and had the same genes, while some were fraternal, no more genetically linked than any other siblings. Each pair shared the same environment growing up.

While people with higher incomes were more likely to drink, they were also more inclined to do so moderately. For lower-income individuals, those polled fell into wildly different categories — some drinking heavily, some not at all. The study also surmised that genetics had a “bigger influence” on the drinking habits of people with more financial challenges, while environmental influences tipped the scales more heavily for people who made more money.

While there is no gene for alcoholism, there are studies that point to genetic contributions.

For many, alcohol dependence begins early and is influenced by peer behavior. A desire to impress their friends and fit in can supersede the risk they know is involved. But peer pressure isn’t limited to middle school, high school, or college. There’s a growing movement of Moms who revel a little too much in “wine o‘clock,” particularly on social media.

These environmental and cultural factors are also a culprit in alcohol dependence, as is the prevalence of television shows and movies where drinking to excess is practically as common as breathing.

No Matter Why You Struggle with Alcohol Abuse, We Can Help

If you’re struggling with excessive drinking or alcoholism, no matter the reason, we can help you heal and rebuild your life. Contact our team today to find out how our program can give you the tools, encouragement, and support you need to live a fulfilling life outside of substance abuse.