Can Alcoholism be Inherited?

Answer: Yes. There is convincing evidence that alcoholism can be passed along through the generations by way of a biologic pathway called genetic predisposition. These “addiction genes” are biological differences that may make someone more or less vulnerable to addiction.

These genes may also be the ones that make it harder for some to quit or easier to relapse. Certain genes may also play a role in the severity of withdrawal symptoms or paradoxical effects of drugs (for example, a drug that’s supposed to make you feel good makes you feel sick instead).

Genetics Aren’t the Only Culprit, Though

Genetic factors play a role in raising your propensity to be addicted, but it does not play it alone. Addiction vulnerability is a very complex trait (still being researched) that involves many factors, including environmental and social ones.

So if you have a family history of addiction, you are at higher risk for abusing alcohol. But just because your father, uncle, grandfather, and second-cousin were all alcoholics doesn’t make you one.

Remember all those novels you read as a kid—all the ones where the villain was the hero’s brother or father? (Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, etc.) Sure you may be predisposed, but ultimately, it all comes down to the choices you make. Your choices determine your future, not your genes. If you know you are genetically predisposed to an addiction, you can resolve never to drink alcohol in any setting. As our founder Gene Duffy once said, “It’s the first drink that causes the drunk.”

That said, once you choose to drink and trigger that addiction center of your brain, the physiological effects of the disease begin that may be nearly impossible for you to control and will require significant treatment to reverse. Duffy’s understands the nature of this disease and can help you build a new life.

What Should I Do if Alcoholism Runs in My Family?

If you have a history of alcoholism in your family, use your knowledge as a safety-bar. If you know you’re family has a predisposition for uncontrolled drinking, don’t take the first sip, assuming you’ll be able to stop. Learn from those before you and resolve to be different.