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Is Alcoholism Genetic?

Before the 20th century, drinking alcohol to excess was seen as a character flaw rather than a diagnosable and treatable disease. Research into helping treat alcohol abuse led to groundbreaking studies that pointed to genetics as one of the underlying causes of alcoholism.

Alcohol is one of the most common substances of abuse. According to data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, close to 30 million people in the United States over the age of 12 had an alcohol use disorder in 2021.

Treating alcoholism is a process. Quitting alcohol cold turkey without the support and guidance of an alcohol rehab facility can be dangerous. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be severe so it’s always better to trust the clinical professionals at Vogue Recovery Center for your alcohol treatment program.

What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a condition where someone is unable to control their drinking despite negative consequences. It is a type of substance use disorder that revolves around the excessive and compulsive use of alcohol.

People with alcoholism often experience a strong craving for alcohol. This leads to physical dependence on the substance. They often choose drinking over other aspects of their lives, including work, relationships, and personal responsibilities. As the disorder progresses, individuals may need increasing amounts of alcohol to achieve the desired effects, leading to tolerance.

What Are the Symptoms of Alcoholism?

Is Alcoholism Genetic

Alcoholism symptoms can vary in severity. Some are mild and can be easy to ignore. Others are severe and can make life challenging in many different ways. Once you understand what alcoholism is, it’s easier to spot the signs and symptoms that you or someone you love is suffering from alcohol addiction.  

The symptoms of alcoholism can include:

  • Compulsive drinking: A strong urge to drink and difficulty stopping once you start
  • Loss of control: Inability to limit the amount of alcohol consumed
  • Physical dependence: Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when alcohol intake is reduced or stopped
  • Neglecting responsibilities: Neglecting personal, social, and professional obligations due to alcohol consumption
  • Increased tolerance: Needing more alcohol to achieve the desired effects over time

Is Alcoholism Genetic?

Studies have shown that individuals with family histories of alcoholism have a higher risk of developing AUD themselves. If you have a close relative with an AUD, you are also at a higher risk of developing the disorder. This suggests there may be a genetic link to alcoholism. 

In 2006 the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institutes of Health completed a study that found genes can play a role in the development of alcoholism. Further research uncovered two genes in particular, ADH1B and ALDH2, as the strongest to impact alcoholism. The genetics of alcoholism is still a topic of alcohol research around the world as the addiction treatment and medical communities work towards finding the most effective treatment solutions.

Other Factors Can Lead to Alcoholism Too

Is Alcoholism Genetic

Several things in addition to genetic factors can contribute to a higher risk of developing alcoholism. These factors can interact in complex ways, and it’s often a combination of influences that leads someone to be more susceptible to alcoholism. Some of the primary risk factors that can lead to alcoholism include:

  • Genetics: As mentioned earlier, having a family history of alcoholism can increase your risk of developing the disorder. Specific genes may play a role in how the body metabolizes alcohol and how the brain responds to its effects.
  • Environmental factors: The environment in which you grow up can influence your drinking behavior. Exposure to alcohol at an early age, peer pressure, and social norms that accept heavy drinking can contribute to alcoholism.
  • Mental health conditions: Those with mental health disorders have a higher risk of developing alcohol use disorder to cope with their symptoms. Some common mental health conditions that can predispose someone to alcoholism include:
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Bipolar disorder
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Stress and trauma: High levels of stress or experiencing traumatic events can lead some individuals to use alcohol to self-medicate. This can increase the likelihood of developing a dependency. Childhood trauma has shown a strong link with alcoholism in adulthood. 
  • Social and cultural factors: Cultural attitudes towards alcohol and its consumption can also influence drinking patterns. In societies where heavy drinking is normalized, there may be a higher risk of alcoholism.
  • Early alcohol use: Individuals who start drinking at a young age are more likely to develop alcohol-related problems.
  • Peer influence: Being surrounded by peers who drink heavily or have alcohol use disorders is also a risk factor.
  • Personality traits: Certain personality traits, such as impulsivity, sensation-seeking, and low stress tolerance, can contribute to alcoholism risk.

Can Alcoholism Be Prevented?

Although there are negative risk factors for alcoholism along with your genes, there are some factors that can help prevent alcoholism. These factors can make a difference even if alcoholism runs in your family. They include:

  • Strong support from family and friends
  • Academic achievements
  • Anti-drug and alcohol resources 
  • Regular sleeping and eating habits
  • Engaging in activities that don’t involve alcohol

How Do I Know If I’m an Alcoholic?

Everyone with alcoholism experiences symptoms in different ways. That can make recognizing when you have a problem difficult. There are obvious signs of alcohol abuse, like a DUI arrest, or more subtle signs, like slipping performance at work or in school.

Here are some common signs that may point to alcoholism:

  • Cravings or urges: Feeling a strong urge or desire to consume alcohol
  • Loss of control: Inability to control the amount of alcohol consumed at one time
  • Increased tolerance: Needing to drink larger amounts of alcohol to get drunk
  • Withdrawal symptoms: Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking or reduce your alcohol usage
  • Neglecting responsibilities: Neglecting important life responsibilities like work, school, or family obligations
  • Continued use despite consequences: Drinking despite experiencing negative consequences
  • Social withdrawal: Isolating yourself from friends or family members and giving up activities you once enjoyed in favor of drinking.
  • Drinking in risky situations: Consuming alcohol in situations that could be dangerous, like behind the wheel of a car
  • Inability to quit or cut down: Repeated unsuccessful attempts to quit drinking or cut down on alcohol consumption
  • Preoccupation with alcohol: Thinking about drinking often, planning your activities around alcohol, or thinking about when you can drink next
  • Drinking alone or in secret: Drinking alone or hiding your alcohol consumption from others

Not all these signs manifest themselves in someone who is abusing alcohol. One of the best ways to learn if you’re abusing alcohol is to speak with a professional substance use disorder therapist. Vogue Recovery Center has helped countless people on their journeys to recovery from alcoholism, and we’re ready to help you. Working with a team of clinical professionals is the best way to ensure a safe, comfortable, and effective recovery from alcoholism.

Is There a Test to Diagnose Alcoholism?

Here are two examples of tests that therapists sometimes use to diagnose an alcohol use disorder:

Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT)

AUDIT is a 10-question screening tool used by addiction treatment professionals to diagnose an alcohol use disorder. There are two pages: one administered by a clinician and a self-reporting section. The questions revolve around how often you drink, the amount of alcohol you consume, and negative consequences surrounding drinking. Those who score an 8 or higher on the test may suffer from an alcohol use disorder.


Electroencephalography (EEG) is a non-invasive neuroimaging technique that measures the electrical activity of the brain by placing electrodes on the scalp. The technique can detect alcoholism within the brain. Chronic alcohol use can lead to changes in brain wave patterns recorded by EEG. Studies have shown that individuals with AUD may exhibit abnormal ERPs in response to certain cognitive tasks, suggesting impaired information processing and cognitive deficits.

What If I Have a Genetic Risk of Alcoholism?

Is Alcoholism Genetic

If you are at risk for alcoholism, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from developing a drinking problem. Many think the only thing they can do is stop drinking, but there are other activities and relationships that can make a difference:

  • Reduce the amount of stress in your life.
  • Understand your family history of substance abuse or mental illness (genetic risk).
  • Build a support network of family and friends.
  • Learn to identify the symptoms of alcoholism.
  • Find help from a professional addiction treatment center.

Alcoholism Treatment Programs at Vogue Recovery Center

Vogue Recovery Center is a leading provider of alcohol and drug addiction treatment for those in need. We take an integrated approach to recovery. That means we combine the best evidence-based behavioral therapy with proven holistic practices for a well-rounded treatment plan.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

One of the ways we treat alcoholism and co-occurring mental health disorders is through dual diagnosis treatment. If your alcoholism is due to mental illness like depression or anxiety, treating both is the only effective path to recovery. Dual diagnosis uses evidence-based therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). These psychotherapies can help you develop coping skills that you’ll take with you in life outside treatment. These skills are key in managing triggers to drink.

Your treatment plan is outlined by your therapist after an initial assessment. Different levels of care can offer a personalized approach to recovery.

The unique levels of care at Vogue Recovery Center include:

  • Medical detox: Detoxing from alcohol is the first step in the recovery process. Withdrawal symptoms for alcohol abuse include dangerous conditions like delirium tremens (DTs). Our medical staff is available around the clock to provide care and comfort during the detox process.
  • Inpatient treatment: Inpatient rehab is a form of treatment that involves spending 24/7 at our treatment facility. The structure and around-the-clock care helps you focus all your energy on achieving sobriety.
  • Partial hospitalization program (PHP): PHP is a form of outpatient rehab that involves spending five days a week in treatment. You live in a sober living home or in your own home while in treatment. A PHP is the first step towards transitioning to life after recovery.
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP): Intensive outpatient programs build on the teachings of a PHP to help prepare you for life after recovery. You spend between 9 and 15 hours per week at our facility during IOP treatment.
  • Outpatient rehab: Outpatient rehab involves putting the tools and skills you learned in recovery to use in your everyday life. Outpatient care is a great place to build a system of support for when you need help in the future.

When you trust a treatment center like Vogue Recovery Center, you’re making the right choice for your recovery. Alcohol dependence is a terrible way to go through life. Getting help from substance abuse and behavioral health professionals is the best course of action when alcohol addiction threatens to ruin your life. Rehab allows you to focus on getting sober without distractions. You can learn the skills and tools necessary to stop drinking once and for all. Our team of therapists is here to guide you through the process. If your risk of alcohol dependence is higher due to a mental illness, our behavioral health team is here to help. 

Contact the admissions team at Vogue Recovery Center today and learn more about how to pay for rehab. Our team can also assist with an insurance verification. No matter what caused you to start, if you want to stop drinking alcohol, our treatment center can help.


Evan Gove

Evan Gove

Evan Gove is a writing and editing professional with ten years of experience. He graduated from Hobart and William Smith Colleges with a degree in Writing & Rhetoric. When not writing, you can find him enjoying his sunny hometown of Delray Beach, Florida.
Evan Gove

Latest posts by Evan Gove (see all)

Published by Evan Gove

Evan Gove is a writing and editing professional with ten years of experience. He graduated from Hobart and William Smith Colleges with a degree in Writing & Rhetoric. When not writing, you can find him enjoying his sunny hometown of Delray Beach, Florida.

Medically Reviewed by Kelsey Jones, MS, LPC