The Alcoholism Gene

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : November 10, 
| 4 Sources

Is Alcoholism Hereditary?

About 16 million people in the U.S. suffer from alcohol use disorder, as per the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Heavy drinking is linked to a string of adverse medical, social, and psychiatric consequences -- and an approximate 88,000 Americans perish annually from alcohol-related causes. 

Genetic, hereditary, and environmental elements all play a role in alcohol use disorder, but a lot of the variants through the genome deemed to be related with AUD remain to be identified.

The occurrence of an alcoholism gene is something that scientists and physiologists have studied throughout the years.

If there are families that hold a large number of alcoholics, is alcoholism hereditary? The answer to this question may be one that is loaded, rather than a simple explanation.

Identifying a Specific Alcoholism Gene

Studies during the last twenty years have provided strong evidence that part of the susceptibility to being an alcoholic is hereditary. Many scientists and social scientists have observed that the phenomena of alcoholism seems to run in families.

In a family of blood related individuals, there is an increased chance that if one person is an alcoholic, the offspring, siblings, or parents of the individual will be alcoholics as well.

However, determining which genes pass on the tendency for problem drinking is difficult—mainly because alcoholism is already complicated in itself.

Genes that impact how fast the liver processes and metabolizes alcohol and how a person’s brain reacts to stress, pleasure, and reward have all been considered, as have genes for depression and anxiety.

One of the genes that has been identified as a component that causes the development of alcoholism is the CREB gene. The CREB gene dictates how high or low the body’s tolerance of alcohol will be. If the CREB protein is decreased, alcohol may become a preference.

Decreased CREB proteins can run in families, helping to answer the question, 'is alcoholism hereditary?'

Alcoholism Gene

Endorphin Release in Alcoholism

Endorphins also appear to play a part in alcoholism. The brain has the ability to release signals to the body, some for basic instincts, and others for intellectual or emotional reasons.

Endorphins are the hormone that the brain releases to produce a feeling of comfort or pleasure. Endorphins are also sent to the brain when the body may be in any sort of pain, to help dull the negative feelings. They produce a similar effect that morphine has on the brain.

Some researchers have gathered that if a person has a low endorphin level, they are more likely to abuse alcohol. Those who have parents with low endorphin levels will tend to have lower endorphins as well. This explains one way that alcohol becomes a hereditary trait.

Dealing with Genetic Triggers

Alcoholism has long since been thought to run in families and with genetic proof, the question is now how to help prevent those who have the alcoholic gene from becoming an alcoholic.

The first step is through developing an understanding of alcoholism and its signs. Since those who are predisposed to alcohol likely have close family members who are or were alcoholics, they may have a better understanding of what alcoholism looks like.

With the help of alcoholism counseling, those who are predisposed to the disease will be able to speak freely. If they see themselves starting to build their alcohol consumption and develop the signs of those who may be an alcoholic, they will already have a safe space to speak about their issues and get help to change their behaviors.

Those with the alcoholism gene are not assured to get the disease. Just as those who are hereditary predisposed to diseases like diabetes are able to change around their eating habits and watch their weight to decrease the possibility of developing the disease, those who are predisposed to hereditary alcoholism can take precautions by not making alcohol a part of their regular life.

The argument 'is alcoholism hereditary' is a nature and nurture argument. By nature, yes, there are those who possess genes that make it easier to become an alcoholic. By nurture, habits can always be changed to make sure that the alcoholism gene has little to no effect on the lives of those who choose to live a sober life.

 Nonetheless, it might likewise be associated with the environment, lifestyle, as well as other nongenetic factors that are mutually shared by the members of a family.

If you or your loved one is struggling with alcohol issues, help is available. There are many treatment options and support groups. Get help for your alcoholism right now by reaching out to a dedicated treatment provider.

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


Science Daily. Study reveals genes associated with heavy drinking and alcoholism. April 2, 2019.

Jama Network. Finding the Gene(s) for Alcoholism. April 18, 1990.

The Wall Street Journal. In Search of Alcoholism Genes. February 8, 2011.

Medline Plus. Alcohol use disorder.

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