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Do Alcoholic Parents Make Alcoholic Children?

answered 11:44 PM EST, Tue November 29, 2011
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I am adopted. My parents were always very moderate drinkers but definitely people who enjoyed a few glasses of wine with a good meal on a Friday night kind of thing. I am 22 now and I enjoy wine with dinner and I also really enjoy heading out to the clubs and having a few drinks or more than a few drinks sometimes and just cutting lose after a hard week at work. I think sometimes that I might enjoy the drinking a little more than the dancing whereas my friends are perhaps of the opposite opinion, but it’s all no big deal.

I met my birth mom last week for the first time. She finally consented to see me after a few years of my making a request. When I met her I understood why she hadn’t wanted to meet me. She is an alcoholic and lives in a not very nice place. My real father is no longer in the picture, but I she told me that drugs and alcohol are a problem for him as well.

Anyway, because my family grew up in a such a stable upper middle class environment and because I never really saw the effects of drinking I guess I never really thought about it too much in my own life. But seeing my mom and hearing that my dad is the same way is kind of shocking. I certainly do not want to end up where they are in life. I know that alcoholism is in some ways a genetic thing. How worried do I have to be that I will have inherited their alcoholism, even though I grew up in a family without any?

Ari Hahn Says...

You question is a very serious and concerning one. There are actually two ways to answer, both correct, but with opposite implications. The simple answer is that while there is no way to predict if you will become an addict just because your biological parents were addicts. And the longer you live and drink without become addicted, the less likely you will become an addict.

While that answer is true, and you might hear it from some well intentioned people, it is a dangerous answer. It is like saying that since you can hear cars coming down the street, you don't have to look both ways before crossing. There is an obvious danger lurking and it would be foolish not to take maximum precautions especially if you can lose everything. Having biological parent increases you risk significantly. You know that you enjoy drinking more that other people. You know that alcoholics are the last people to recognize their own addiction. It is really important for you, as an individual, to keep yourself safe since falling could literally ruin your life. 

I cannot say if moderation is a real option for you. It is for some people. You can only know for sure if you try moderation and fail. Then you can know that it is not an option. That would mean that you need to be constantly vigilant about something that you cannot trust yourself with. You would need to always have somebody you can trust and accept his or her opinion concerning your drinking, even if you disagree.

I know people in your exact situation who became gutter drunks despite being raised in intact healthy adoptive families.  So even though there is no way to predict how inheritable alcoholism is for any specific individual, it really behooves you to take every possible precaution. Including teaching yourself to enjoy dancing more that drink. (or some other positive activity)

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Page last updated Nov 29, 2011

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