Contributor: Oasis clinical team member Erica Smith, M.A., NCC
What Research has Confirmed
The abuse of and addiction to substances has long been known to run in families. However, extensive research on the topic has shown that genetics are believed to be responsible for approximately half of the risk for alcoholism.
Various estimates have offered percentages ranging anywhere between 40% and 60%.
Genetics Is Never the Sole Factor
So while one’s genes can be deterministic of whether or not he or she will be at a heightened risk for developing an addiction to alcohol, it should not be viewed as the sole factor as to why someone becomes dependent on alcohol.
That being said, however, with studies showing that nearly half of the risk does, in fact, lie in one’s genes, much consideration regarding genetics should be taken into account when looking at the onset of alcoholism.
So what does genetic predisposition mean? In layman’s terms, a genetic predisposition refers to the increased likelihood that an individual has towards developing a condition or illness as a direct result of his or her genetic makeup. A genetic predisposition results from specific genetic variations that are typically inherited from one’s parent or both parents.
So if a genetic predisposition for alcoholism exists, or, in other words, if an individual has a biological parent or other first-degree relative who struggles with an addiction to alcohol, he or she inherently has a genetic predisposition for developing an addiction to alcohol as well.
This does not mean that that individual will, without a doubt, become an alcoholic, rather it means that if that person is exposed to alcohol or experiments with alcohol consumption, the genetic predisposition he or she possesses makes him or her more likely to developing an addiction than would someone who does not have a similar family history or genetic background.
How Mental Illness Can Play a Part in Addiction
Similarly, the existence of a genetic predisposition for mental illness can also potentially play a role in heightening one’s risk for developing an addiction to alcohol.
There are many instances in which people who are suffering from various mental health conditions turn to the consumption of drugs and/or alcohol as a means of self-medicating in an attempt to alleviate the distressing symptoms that result from the presence of a mental illness.
The Numbing Agent of Alcohol
In other words, when people are suffering from mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, amongst others, it is not uncommon for them to drink alcohol because it can act as a numbing agent, eliciting a sense of calm as the alcohol numbs the negative emotions that are experienced as a result of such mental health conditions.
The development of mental illnesses rely, in large part, on an individual’s genetic makeup, so if one has a genetic predisposition to mental health conditions, he or she is at a heightened risk for using drugs and/or alcohol, and therefore also at a higher risk for developing an addiction to alcohol.
Finding Treatment as Soon as Possible
Regardless of the reasons behind why an individual starts using alcohol and subsequently develops an addiction to the substance, it is imperative that he or she receive treatment as soon as possible in order to prevent the detrimental effects that can arise from prolonged alcohol abuse from occurring.
There are many treatment options available for individuals who are need of assistance and guidance in overcoming an addiction to alcohol. In most cases, the most beneficial option for jumpstarting the treatment process for an addiction to alcohol takes place in an inpatient treatment setting.
By entering into this type of treatment environment, individuals are, first and foremost, walking into a safe environment where they do not have access to alcohol.
Additionally, inpatient treatment affords individuals the safety provided through around-the-clock monitoring by mental health professionals, addiction specialists, and medical staff.
Furthermore, many inpatient programs offer detoxification services where patients can go through the withdrawal process under the close supervision of clinical professionals, who can ensure their safety every step of the way.
Throughout the inpatient treatment process, individuals can partake in various therapeutic interventions that will allow them to learn and practice the skills needed to achieve and maintain lasting recovery.
About the Author:
This blog was written by Oasis clinical team member Erica Smith, M.A., NCC. Erica has several years of experience working in the treatment field as a clinical therapist and has her Master’s Degree in Clinical Counseling Psychology from the American School of Professional Psychology.
Oasis Behavioral Health is a psychiatric and chemical dependency treatment center that is devoted to providing the highest quality of care to everyone who comes to us for help. By offering a supportive and compassionate environment, we strive to empower those who are struggling with addictions by encouraging hope, healing, and recovery as they embark on the journey to true wellness and continued sobriety.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on January 31, 2015
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 6, 2021
Published on AddictionHope.com