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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Environment and culture combine with genetics to influence alcoholism


There is a genetic predisposition to alcoholism (watch the YouTube video). Doctors have known for years there are genetic components to this disease. Six years ago while researching my first book, the evidence was clear on genetics, even if heredity wasn't as clear a picture. The human genome project shed light specifically on which genes and chromosomes are flawed in alcoholics. Chromosomes 4Q and 11, for example, have been indicated.

But just because a person has a genetic predisposition doesn't mean they're drinkers dying for a drink or alcoholics dying from one. There are millions of Americans with flawed chromosomes who don't even know it because they don't drink alcohol. You cannot have the disease of alcoholism without having exposure to alcohol. Regardless of DNA. Just like you can have a genetic predisposition to certain cancers, and live a cancer-free life. They're also millions of alcoholics who find out the hard way their genetic makeup is flawed, experience the disease, and now choose total abstinence to manage the incurable condition.

Beyond genetics, there are other factors that come into play when a person chooses alcohol, and when alcohol turns on them. Two of the most important ones are environment and culture.

Environment means the surroundings in which they were raised. In my case, every family gathering we had – birthdays, holidays, Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, etc. – included alcohol. Also, my father would come home from work and pop open an ice-cold can of PBR. That's how a man finished his day of work. Other children grow up an environment where they see mom having a glass of wine to calm down or relieve stress and they learn in that environment that's what you do to relieve stress.


What is meant by culture is that we are bombarded with advertisements and social situations that glorify the feel-good part of this drug. It is the cultural norm in the U.S. and many countries to drink socially, and abstinence is considered abnormal and is stigmatized. The point is, genetics don't put the bottle in your hand. Your parents don't put the bottle in your hand. Your friends and coworkers don't put the bottle in your hand. Whether you have the disease of alcoholism, or just don't want to find out if you do, don't take the first drink. And if you are drinking why take the next one?

Visit alcohologist.com for a replay of CBS Sports' Power Up Your Health featuring Scott Stevens.  Host Ed Forteau led a discussion on risky myths of about "healthy" drinking.  Lucy Pireel's "All That's Written" included a feature on Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud called "When alcohol doesn't work for you anymore."  Details on the third literary award for Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud also can be found on www.alcohologist.com, plus the NEW book, Adding Fire to the Fuel, is now available. Download the FREE Alcohology app in the Google PlayStore today.