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If your dad was a drunk, does that mean that you'll be one too?

Not necessarily, but it does mean that you should be pretty careful with the way you drink, because you might carry something in your genes that makes alcohol a bad idea.

The Genetics of Alcoholism

First, understand the science behind the hereditary nature of alcoholism

The neuro chemical mechanisms that leave some people more pre disposed to develop problems with alcohol than others are not yet completely understood, but researchers are now quite certain that there is a hereditary link to alcoholism, and that certain gene expressions are inherited that make the development of alcoholism more likely.

Alcoholic Gene Expression

Research looking at adopted children raised away from their biological parents has helped researchers to reduce the nature versus nurture causation debate from the expression of alcoholism, and children of alcoholics, even those raised exclusively by people who themselves are not alcoholics, are more likely than the general population to develop alcoholism. Additionally, researchers have discovered a unique gene expression that is more prevalent in alcoholics and amongst alcoholic families than in the general population, and this gene expression also seems to make us more vulnerable to depression and anxiety, which themselves increase the risk of problem drinking.

Scientists and clinical researchers continue to chip away at the puzzle, and are gaining a better understanding of the bio chemical factors that increase our predisposition to alcoholism; and hopefully, when enough knowledge on the biological basis of alcoholism emerges, accompanying treatment options will also reveal themselves. But since the human brain is so inordinarily complex, there is no way to say when if ever scientists will gain a complete understanding.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

For now though what seems clear is that if you have a close relative with an alcohol problem, you need to be especially cautious of your own alcohol consumption, and be very aware of the signs and symptoms that may indicate the beginnings of a problem in yourself. What may be a safe level of drinking for others may in fact be dangerous with a biological disposition towards dependence and abuse.

If you know you have a direct genetic link to alcohol dependence, limit the amount you drink and limit the frequency of consumption. You may have nothing to worry about, but the price you may pay for too much indulgence is far too great to risk.

Watch for the Signs of a Problem

Be very concerned if you notice an increasing tolerance to the effects of alcohol or a preoccupation with alcohol. Get help if you seem to be unable to limit your drinking, if you seem to be consistently drinking more than you had intended to, and especially if you find yourself drinking even when faced with the adverse consequences of that alcohol consumption.

A little extra vigilance and caution may save a lot of pain and heartache. Be careful!

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Page last updated Sep 28, 2015

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