Is Alcoholism Genetic: Cause Of Addiction

We see it on many TV shows, in most restaurants, and even have stores on our street corners. Alcohol is readily available for anyone looking to purchase it, and modern television shows often depict characters drinking excessive amounts. Though the characters on TV aren't promoting alcoholism directly, it reinforces the notion that drinking a lot, all the time, is okay; and for many families, alcoholism, or Alcohol use disorder, can be devastating. So that leaves the question: Is alcoholism genetic? Is this disease, where you have to sit and watch your loved one deteriorate, day by day, bottle by bottle, genetic? It feels like a hopeless situation with a hopeless answer because, often, the person cannot accept they have an issue. They can develop major health problems, from hair loss to extreme weight loss. They could also lose their jobs, partners, children, and even become homeless.

Obviously, addiction is not a choice. Nobody chooses to lose everything. But if it is not a choice, what causes alcoholism? Is alcoholism genetic? What can be done about it? All of these questions, and more, will be answered below.

Signs of Alcoholism

Woman With Alcohols

There are many symptoms of alcoholism. These symptoms are often flashed on our TV screens during anti-drunk driving commercials. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Drunk driving
  • Missing work
  • Becoming angry and violent
  • Yellowing skin
  • Poor hygiene
  • Major weight loss
  • Brittle nails, dried-out skin, brittle hair
  • Frequent intoxication
  • Broken blood vessels in the face
  • Heavy drinking
  • Drinking and blacking out

The DSM 5

Man With Tape On Forehead

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has a list of its own symptoms to diagnose alcohol use disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM 5, is a book published by the American Psychiatric Association. It contains hundreds of disorders, from Bipolar Disorder to clinical depression, and even Paranoid Schizophrenia. It also contains many sexual and emotional illnesses.

The book is used by Psychiatrists across the country to help diagnose patients as each illness includes a list of diagnostic symptoms. The DSM 5 is updated every few years, as needed, and these symptoms can change over time as the studied populations change. Is alcoholism genetic? Psychiatrists and scientists globally believe so, and it was included in the DSM 5 for diagnosis.

You, or someone you love, might be addicted to alcohol if:

  • You crave it, develop a tolerance, and experience withdrawal
  • If the person spends a significant amount of time buying alcohol, drinking it, and recovering from intoxication
  • You plan to drink a small amount, but end up drinking a lot over a long period of time
  • You try to cut down on your intake, but you keep failing
  • You cancel events, parties, and outings with your friends or family to get drunk
  • You continue to drink even though you know it's ruining your life
  • You drink alcohol in situations that can be deadly, like driving a car, or using heavy machinery at work

Is Alcoholism Genetic?


This topic is highly controversial, as many people believe that addiction, of all kinds, is not an illness. Science has proven that it is an illness, and some people are genetically predisposed to addiction. Some people are even genetically disposed to being more sensitive to alcohol.

To answer the question "is alcoholism genetic?" we must acknowledge that the first initial choice that leads to addiction is indeed a free choice. After that, it is believedthat the genetic component of addiction comes into play. Some scientists believe that addiction affects the body's neurotransmitters, establishing a consistent behavior.

Dopamine is the "feel good" transmitter. It gives the person feelings of euphoria and enforces behaviors and cravings. Then there is glutamate, the neurotransmitter that is linked to learning and memory functions. The addiction morphs the transmitter, reinforcing the behavior and cravings, like dopamine. Lastly, there is serotonin, the chemical linked to sleep and your sense of wellness. Without it, you can feel depressed, angry, violent, have anxiety, and even have suicidal tendencies.

So, is alcoholism genetic? Yes, it is.

Asian Flush Syndrome

People With Alcohol

This is a syndrome usually seen in individuals of Asian ethnicities, where even after a few sips of alcohol, their skin flushes red. It's caused by genetics, and it occurs because the body lacks an enzyme necessary to efficiently break down the alcohol. While this can technically be an issue for anyone from any genetic background, it is far more common for those from Asian heritages to lack the enzyme.

Other Causes of Addiction

Environment is another major cause of alcoholism. There have been dozens of studies proving that children who grow up in abusive households tend to sway toward alcoholism. Children growing up in foster care systems, and homeless children, also tend to become alcoholics because of their situations.

Major Problems Alcohol Causes

Even if alcoholism is genetic and might seem unavoidable, here are some reasons you might put the bottle down before you start:



Losing Your Job


Cancer and Death


To conclude, is alcoholism genetic? Yes, it is, but it can also be influenced by environmental factors. You can be born with a genetic makeup that makes you more sensitive to alcohol. It is believed that addiction warps three major neurotransmitters in order to form habits, enforce behaviors, and establish cravings. The three neurotransmitters are dopamine, the "feel good" transmitter, glutamate, the learning and memory transmitter, and serotonin, the transmitter that allows you to gauge your well being. So how does the warping of these neurotransmitters cause addiction? When you get your first hit of dopamine, your body will crave that feeling. Not only will it crave it, but there will be a drop in your serotonin levels, causing feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts. In order to counteract that, your body will want more dopamine, and thus a chain reaction begins.

Stop Before It Starts

Alcohol In Hand

Do yourself a huge favor and look into your family history. Alcoholism is a disease and genetics pay a huge part: but the first drink is entirely your own choice. If you know of close family members that are alcoholics, take it easy on the alcohol. We've already established that alcoholism is genetic, and doing research can only benefit you. When you go out to drink, even if you aren't genetically predisposed, don't get blackout drunk all the time. This could develop into alcoholism.

Symptoms and Results

Alcoholism Genetic

Excessive drinking, blackouts, and cravings can only lead to problems. Though the symptoms can be obvious, like weight loss, poor hygiene, and withdrawals, it will have devastating effects. Your health is jeopardized when drinking, as you can develop liver failure, cancers, ulcers, yellowing skin, and brittle hair or nails. It is so serious that you can die.

Alcoholism can lead to divorce, cancers, homelessness, job loss, and even personality change. Alcoholism can make you angry and abusive, which fuels divorce and can lead to jail time.

​Getting Help

There are dozens of help hotlines, addiction centers, and people to talk to for assistance. Addiction isn't a choice. The "is alcoholism genetic" debate has been going on for years, and even though it may seem controversial, addiction has been proven to be a disease. Do not let stigma steer you away from reaching out for help.

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