Twenty-six episodes of 'The A-Files' will run throughout Alcohol Awareness Month on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Alcohologist.com andAddictedMinds.com, among other web and social media sites. Episode G looks at the genetics underlying alcohol use disorders.
Genes influence the likelihood of becoming alcoholic. The genome project identified flaws in chromosomes 4q and 11, among others, as creating a higher probability a person will be alcoholic. These flaws can be passed on through heredity – mom or dad – or the genes can be damaged from repeated alcohol use. So you can be born with a predisposition for alcoholism, or you can drink your way into the disease. That's how the disease can be both, gene-based and behavior-based.
The disease of alcoholism is far more complicated than genetics. A person even can be born with the faulty genetic package and never know it, IF he or she never drinks. Easier said than done in this culture. Our genetic factors interact with our environment. Some people are more sensitive to stress, making it harder to cope with an unhealthy relationship or a fast-paced job. Some people experience a traumatizing event and turn to alcohol to self-medicate. Those with a high genetic risk to use of any drug must first be driven by a nonhereditary factor to do it. That tipping point leading to alcohol use is usually an environmental factor, such as work-related stress.
Those with a history of alcoholism in their family have the highest risk of becoming alcoholics. If you have more than one relative with an alcohol addiction or other substance use disorder, you may have inherited the genes that put you at risk. It's worth repeating that a 2016 study mentioned in The A-Files episode on FASD, shows that fetal exposure to alcohol through mom's drinking in any trimester can increase the chance of alcoholic drinking later in life. The more family members you have with an alcohol problem, the higher the risk. But, just because someone may have a strong susceptibility toward alcoholism does not mean he or she is doomed. No one can control their genetic makeup, but everyone can take measures to prevent an addiction.
If you question the role genetics plays, think about lab rodents. A mouse or rat does not favor alcohol. They are repelled by it, in fact. So how do scientists get lab rats for their experiments? They breed them that way by tweaking the genes.
The entire 26 episode HD series is available on disc, along with fact sheets, for helping professions. See the preorder special at tr.im/AFiles