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While some organizations persist in the belief that alcoholism is a choice and not genetically linked, a decade of scientific research provides compelling evidence to the contrary. Before these studies, alcoholism was considered more of a character flaw than a disease. A person drank because they wanted to drink. Will power and environment were considered the factors for developing alcoholism.
Whether a parent or grandparent was an alcoholic was an environmental contributor, not a genetic contributor. Such theories have faded into the background as more scientific evidence suggests that in fact, having family members who suffer from alcoholism, is a strong determinant of an individual’s alcoholism. As early as the 1970s, research has shown a strong genetic component to alcoholism. Children of alcoholic parents (COA’s) have four times the greater risk of becoming alcoholics than those with non-alcoholic parents. Subsequent studies have provided more evidence that alcoholism is at least partially inherited. Since the mapping of the human genome, scientists are able to point to specific genes related to alcoholism. Genetic markers show that if an individual’s parents or even grandparents were alcoholics, that individual has a greater susceptibility to developing the disease than those without a familial link.
However, few diseases or conditions can be linked solely to heredity. A gene for determining alcoholism has not yet been discovered. Genes are not the only determining factor ofw hether an individual will become an alcoholic. One can understand this concept using the example of Lupus. In identical twins, 17 inherited genes are related to the disease Lupus. However 40 to 75 percent of the time, only one of the identical twins will develop Lupus.
An individual’s environment also plays a part in whether that person will become an alcoholic. Sometimes watching one’s parents destroy their lives through alcoholism is a strong deterrent against drinking. In other cases, a child may view their parent’s drinking as a green light for drinking themselves and eventually become dependent upon alcohol. Two factors that may play a role in the development of alcoholism are tolerance and withdrawal. Tolerance refers to a person’s ability to drink increasing amounts with the same physiological effects. Essentially, a person developing tolerance can drink increasingly more alcohol over time without feeling the effects.
Withdrawal is the effect a person experiences after quitting drinking alcohol. Symptoms of withdrawal include hyperactivity, tremor, insomnia, nausea, hallucinations, psychomotor agitation, anxiety, and if severe, seizures. Studies show that tolerance and withdrawal both have genetic components.
The next question is to what degree genetics and environment play in a person becoming an alcoholic, and whether or not a genetic predisposition for alcoholism is necessary for environmental factors to induce the disease.
This post is brought to you by Argosy University. Drawing upon our more than 30-year history of granting degrees in professional psychology, Argosy University has developed a curriculum that focuses on interpersonal skills and practical experience alongside academic learning. Because getting a degree is one thing. Succeeding, quite another.
1. Alcoholism is not a Disease (http://www.addictioninfo.org/articles/447/1/Alcoholism-is-not-a-Disease/Page1.html); Timothy J. Falcone, Copyright 2003 Baldwin Research Institute, Inc.; Addiction.org.
2. Lupus not Identical in Twins (http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/51410/title/Lupus_not_identical_in_twins); Tina Hesman Saey; January 2010; Science News.org.
3. The Genetics of Alcoholism (http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa18.htm); National Institute of Alcohol and Drug Abuse of the National Institute of Health; niaaa.nih.gov.
4. Tolerance and Beyond (http://www.rochester.edu/uhs/healthtopics/Alcohol/tolerance.html); University of Health Sciences, University of Rochester, January 2010.
5. PROSPECTIVE STUDIES OF CHILDREN OF ALCOHOLIC PARENTS (http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh21-3/255.pdf); WENDY REICH, PH.D.; (1997); National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute of Health.
6. The Nature of Addiction(http://www.healthymind.com/addictions.html); David C. Bissette, Psy.D. ; 2004; Healthymind.com.
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