Does genetics affect alcohol consumption?

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

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a condition in which it is difficult to stop drinking alcohol, even though it affects your work, your relationships and your health.

Alcohol use disorder used to be called alcoholism, alcohol dependence, or alcohol abuse. This condition affects multiple brain systems, which can cause some people to develop a physical dependence on alcohol.

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

This represents approximately 14.1 million adults. Additionally, approximately 1.7% adolescents aged 12 to 17 were reported to have an alcohol use disorder in 2019.

Many people wonder what causes alcohol use disorders and whether they are genetic. Although genes can influence whether or not alcohol use disorder develops, 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 to 6 times more likely to develop alcohol use problems than those whose parents do not have an 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, and genetics isn’t the only reason someone develops an alcohol use disorder.

The NIAAA points out that genes are only responsible for about half the risk of developing an 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 disorders. You may be more likely to develop this disease if you have a history of it in your family.

There is not just one “alcohol use disorder gene”. Rather, there are many different genes that can influence whether someone develops alcohol use disorder.

Like a articles from 2015 in Nature points out that researchers have not been able to identify a single gene that determines whether or not you develop an addiction.

Many different traits, including some hereditary, can play a role.

But at the same time research is still in progress to identify the causative and protective genes of alcohol use disorders, it is not currently common practice to test these genes.

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

  • Down syndrome
  • Huntington’s disease
  • sickle cell disease

Living with inherited mental health issues can increase the likelihood of developing an alcohol use disorder.

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

Yes. If alcohol tends to make you sick, it could be due to a genetic component.

According to a 2019 reviewthe ADH1B and ALDH2 genes can affect the way our body metabolizes alcohol, causing symptoms such as:

ADH1B and ALDH2 may also protect against alcohol consumption and alcohol use disorders.

If drinking alcohol makes you sick, you may be more likely to avoid alcohol in the first place, which can lower your chances of developing an alcohol use disorder.

For this reason, people with the ADH1B and ALDH2 genes may be less likely to develop the disease than those without.

Genetic demography

The genetic variations that lead to alcohol-related nausea, headaches, and flushing may be more common among those of Asian or Jewish descent. These groups generally have a lower risk of developing an alcohol use disorder compared to other populations.

Besides genetics, there are a number of risk factors for developing an alcohol use disorder.

Some risk factors may 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 an alcohol use disorder.

This is not to say that people who have experienced the above will definitely develop an alcohol use disorder. These factors may simply make some people more susceptible to developing the disease.

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

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

Consulting your doctor is often the best first step in seeking treatment, as AUD can be fatal if not medically treated. 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) for help.

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 also be helpful. You can also research support groups online or in your area for people with substance use disorders.

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