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Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic brain disease. It has long been thought to be hereditary. Research has linked it to specific genes.
Research shows that someone with a close relative who has alcohol use disorder has a higher risk of developing AUD. This is especially the case with a parent or sibling.12
However, whether or not AUD and other addictions are hereditary isn’t a simple issue.
Genetics influence a person’s likelihood of developing AUD, but it isn’t the only factor. Many people have family members with AUD who do not develop the disorder.
Researchers estimate that genetics account for about 50 percent of a person’s risk for developing alcohol use disorder. The environment and other factors play an equal role.13
There are multiple genes linked to AUD.
Specific genes increase a person’s risk. Others might decrease that risk.
How a person’s body metabolizes alcohol plays a role. If their body reacts poorly to moderate amounts of alcohol, they are less likely to develop AUD.
Children of people with AUD have a significantly higher risk of developing the disorder themselves. However, not everyone with alcoholic parents develops AUD.
This could be because not everyone inherits their parent's genes linked to AUD. Or their environmental influences may prevent the expression of their inherited genes.
The role of environment in AUD is also seen when comparing people with parents who are addicted to alcohol versus other family members. Growing up around people with addiction makes someone more vulnerable to developing AUD.
Learned behaviors also affect how a person views alcohol later in life. Even without a genetic component, a person can still develop AUD when raised in a certain environment.
Alcohol use disorder is related to genetics. But this doesn’t mean there is a specific gene you inherit which means you will develop the disorder. And not having genes linked to alcoholism doesn’t mean you won’t develop a problem with addiction.
Genetics are approximately 50 percent responsible for someone developing AUD.13
A 2018 study also showed that genetic factors account for 40 to 60 percent of the reason people develop AUD.14 Since that study, specific genes were identified that link with the development of the disorder.
These genes include:
In addition to these genes, researchers have also found the following factors to be involved in a person developing AUD:
One of the most significant genetic factors in determining someone’s risk of developing AUD is tolerance.
Researchers have identified an alcohol tolerance gene that makes a person more likely to abuse alcohol. A person who tolerates higher amounts of alcohol has a higher risk of AUD as time goes on.
The so-called alcohol tolerance gene is cytochrome P450 isozymes. It is found on chromosome 10.15
Ultimately, researchers concluded that genetic variations in and around CYP2E1 affect the level of response to alcohol.16 The gene allows conclusions to be made about how a person’s brain perceives alcohol.
However, researchers need more information before reaching any solid conclusions about alcohol tolerance and CYP2E1.
Other genetic factors and environment likely play a bigger role than any single gene in whether or not a person develops AUD.
Some statistics regarding alcohol and genetics include:
In most cases, environmental factors play as big a role in a person’s developing AUD as genetics does.
Some of the most significant environmental factors affecting alcoholism include:
Those who drink when they are young have a higher risk of developing AUD. This also applies to drinking while pregnant.
Children whose parents were open to the idea of underage drinking have a greater chance of becoming addicted either as teenagers or adults.
Children raised in stressful homes are at higher risk of developing AUD once they are adults. This is especially in homes with sexual, physical, or verbal abuse.
A variety of disorders suggest a higher risk of developing AUD. This includes anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and ADHD.
In contrast, children who grew up with the following tended to have a lower risk for developing an alcohol addiction:
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