For years, alcoholism was seen by many as a family trait that was passed down from generation to generation mercilessly, often with no hope for future generations. The propensity to drink and become addicted was considered completely genetic. Some also believed, however, that it was something that was learned, based on environmental factors. So, which one is it? Is either of these beliefs true? Is alcoholism inherited or learned?

The Genetic Factor of Alcoholism

The people who thought that alcoholism was a family trait were not wrong. As shown in the article, “The Risk Factors of the Alcohol Use Disorders—Through Review of Its Comorbidities,” many people have a genetic predisposition that increases their chances of being addicted to alcohol. It is not just about what happens when you drink alcohol every day, but rather that your genetics can increase your chances of becoming addicted to alcohol.

Genetics alone is not responsible for alcoholism, however. Being genetically predisposed is not a guarantee that you will develop alcohol use disorder (AUD). It does mean, however, that if two people are sitting at a bar, and one has a genetic factor for AUD and the other does not, the person with the genetic predisposition is more likely to become addicted.

 Environmental Factors of Alcoholism

According to the National Institutes of Health, genetic factors are responsible for about half of your risk of becoming addicted to alcohol, which means that environmental factors contribute to the other half of your chances of developing AUD. Environmental factors are things you see, learn and experience surrounding alcohol use that contribute to addiction. These are just a few of the environmental factors that can influence alcoholism:

  • Advertising and marketing
  • Media and social media glorifying alcohol use and abuse
  • Accessibility of alcohol
  • Witnessing drinking or having access to alcohol in the home
  • Peer pressure and social media
  • Social activities surrounding alcohol
  • Depression, anxiety or other mental health diagnoses
  • Trauma, including abuse, loss, violence, etc.

While there are many environmental factors, each person is impacted differently. For example, many people witness daily advertising for alcohol products and are not influenced to drink at all. For others, seeing the images and marketing so frequently has a strong impact on their desire to drink. Some people simply make the decision not to drink, while others are greatly influenced by peer pressure to make a decision contrary to their core values. Each person with AUD has a different story, but environmental factors often do contribute to a person’s drinking habits.

When You Have Both Learned and Inherited Factors

Sadly, when you have both strong environmental and genetic factors for alcoholism, you have the highest risk of developing AUD. According to “The Risk Factors of the Alcohol Use Disorders—Through Review of Its Comorbidities” Most people with genetic factors grow up in an environment of alcohol abuse, which increases their risk factors for alcoholism. Whether it is simply exposure and accessibility to alcohol, or the pain from dealing with the behaviors of someone else’s AUD, those with both learned and inherited factors have more to overcome than those with only one set of risks.

To use the same example of two people in a bar, consider one who is genetically predisposed to alcoholism but grows up in a home with family members who are in alcohol addiction recovery, or who are otherwise emotionally healthy. That person is only half as likely to develop AUD as someone who has both the genetic factors and grew up in a home with alcohol use or other environmental factors. Yet even with both sets of factors, alcoholism is not a guaranteed fate. Nor is it a life sentence. Knowing what happens when you drink alcohol every day, you always can learn how to beat addictions.

Recovery Is Always Possible

Despite having all the cards stacked against you, alcohol addiction recovery is always possible. Learning how to beat addictions is a set of skills that is accessible to everyone. We have no control over our genetics, and often very little control over our environmental factors, especially in the home. What we do have control over, however, is how we respond to our AUD.

Alcoholism does not need to be a life sentence. You can take your life back from AUD one step at a time, beginning with learning how to beat addictions in an addiction treatment program. 

Is alcoholism inherited or learned? It can be either. Or both. There is no one way to develop AUD; drinking offers many different paths to addiction. Likewise, there are different paths to alcohol addiction recovery. New Life is a Maryland outpatient treatment program that specializes in alcohol addiction recovery. We understand the risks and factors that both genetics and environment play in AUD, and we also know the path to recovery well. Call us at (877) 929-2571 to talk to one of our compassionate staff members about beginning your recovery today.