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Is Alcoholism Hereditary? The Role Of Genetics in Disease

Studies have found that nearly 1 in 3 adults drink excessively, most of whom binge drink, yet only an unlucky subset of the population develops alcohol abuse disorder. Why is that?

Well, studies have shown you’re more susceptible to having a problem with alcohol if you have a close family member or a parent who struggles with alcoholism. While a person’s environment is important, it seems so are their genetics.

Your genes dictate nearly all of your characteristics, from your physical qualities to your psychology and behaviour. Knowing that people inherit their genes from their parents ultimately leads many to the question: is alcoholism hereditary?

Keep reading to learn more—and why it matters.

What Causes Alcohol Use Disorder?

Addiction is a chronic disease that affects the brain’s motivation centre, rewiring it to create a toxic and addictive relationship. This relationship becomes powerful and controlling, often leading addicts to say and do things they wouldn’t otherwise.

Alcoholism is also caused by several risk factors, including:

  • Family history;
  • Genetics;
  • Environmental factors;
  • Mental health conditions; and
  • Gender.

Stress often pushes people towards substances. Drinking alcohol can make you feel relaxed or happy by minimizing anxious feelings. Unfortunately, this is an example of an unhealthy coping behaviour that can lead to alcoholism.

Those who have mental illnesses—such as bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, or ADHD—have also been found to turn to substance abuse to cope with or improve the symptoms they experience daily.

A silhouette of a person sitting in front of a glass of beer and beer bottles.

Genetics in Alcoholism: Is Addiction Hereditary?

The short answer to this question is yes.

Alcoholism is hereditary. A National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) study of the human genome connected variations in 51 chromosomal locations in the body to alcoholism, identifying these abnormalities as potential vulnerabilities.

Scientists don’t believe there is an “alcoholism gene” responsible for substance abuse. However, more studies support this hereditary angle based on how proteins “bind” to DNA in families with alcoholism is different from those without it.

Specific Genes Associated With Alcoholism

Genetics is complicated. The human genome is a sprawling web of interconnected cells that the world’s brightest minds are still working to map out and understand.

However, as of now, research has identified some specific genes that are thought to be associated with alcoholism. They’re thought to be connected to the hereditary compulsive traits that often present themselves in addiction.


In determining whether alcoholism is hereditary, scientists have found that this gene is associated with alcohol tolerance and the flush reaction.

The “flush reaction” is when you feel your face getting hot when drinking, often accompanied by sweating. It’s an uncomfortable feeling that likely exists as a way for our bodies to warn us that perhaps we should stop drinking. This gene is thought to be especially strong in East Asian populations known for experiencing the“Asian glow.”

Therefore, those with low ADH1B have been known to have an increased risk of developing alcoholism as their bodies more actively reject the substance. It’s harder to drink excessively when your body is making you increasingly uncomfortable!


Research has shown that mutations—also known as abnormalities—to the GABRB1 gene could influence how people seek out and consume alcohol.

This study conducted on mice found a strong heritable preference for ethanol in mice in which a dominant mutation of the GABRB1 gene had occurred. These so-called “mutant mice” worked harder to obtain ethanol, but were also more sensitive to alcohol intoxication compared to their non-mutated counterparts.

Ultimately, as far as humans go, this study provides further empirical support for the hereditary nature of alcoholism. The heritability of these changes, as outlined in the study, further illustrates how alcoholism can come to be.


Beta-Klotho is a gene coreceptor for the hormone FGF21, which is secreted from the liver and influences human macronutrient preferences.

Another study done on mice found that “brain-specific” mice had an increased preference for alcohol, while FG21 acted on the brain to inhibit alcohol drinking. Essentially, if the relationship between the two becomes skewed, these mice—or, people, perhaps—might find themselves with a greater appetite for alcohol.

Alcoholism comes in five types. Some people struggle with how much they drink at once, while others find it hard not to drink all the time. Regardless of the issue, having a hereditary preference for alcohol is certain not to help.

A person refusing a drink.

How Can Genetics in Alcoholism Increase the Chances of Addiction?

According to research, about 50% to 60% of an individual’s vulnerability to alcoholism is due to genetic factors.

Some of the factors genetics are thought to affect include:

  • The ability to metabolize alcohol
  • A person’s sensitivity to the effects of alcohol
  • Alcohol tolerance level
  • Withdrawal symptoms

It’s also important to note how genetics also affect how substance abuse treatment works. This is why it’s crucial to get help from professionals who can safely introduce medicine, therapy, or other treatment methods to help you get back on your feet.

Overcome Predispositions With Professional Help

So, is alcoholism hereditary?

Your genetics most certainly do matter. However, that doesn’t mean someone with “bad genetics” is born into a life of alcoholism or forced to suffer from it forever. Genetics in alcoholism matter, but you have the power to write your own story.

Freedom From Addiction offers an extensive range of treatment approaches designed to address the root cause of substance abuse disorder. We take a holistic approach to recovery, ensuring our treatment is personalized to our patients and their needs.

Call us now or leave a message and our team will get back to you shortly.


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