< Do Genetics Play a Role in Alcoholism? | I Quit Drinking

It is not a new thing that scientists argued about how genetic factor accounted for alcoholism. To underline this argument, let’s make it clear that there is no single cause of alcohol use disorder. Anything can be the factor of an alcoholic person, and in this article we will discuss is genetic accounted for alcoholism? The medical term for a person with unusual habit of consuming alcohol is “alcohol use disorder”. This term is becoming a trend to replace “alcoholic” that often considered as negative condition.

This situation may vary from one person to another. We can’t generalize the intake of alcohol will be the same from one person to another. Maybe a man can tolerate 6 glasses of alcohol beverages in one night, but a woman can only drink 3 glasses. It’s different, as the body and brain of a person work to compensate the alcohol intake, so no standard can be applied to alcohol use disorder situation. So the problem will be: is genetic accounted for alcoholism?

Before talking about is genetic accounted for alcoholism, let’s talk about genes classification. If we are talking about genetic factor, there are 2 categories or phenotypic expression of genes:

  • Strong Genes
  • Less Strong Genes

In relation with alcohol use disorder, the first category plays the main role. The strong genes are accounted for the movement of what is called
“gamma-aminobutyric-acyd” or we usually call it GABA. These are the genes that work in synapses between neurons. Specifically, this gen has the role for high alcoholism risk. The research from Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism or COGA revealed from 10.000 DNA samples, there are 3 genes inside chromosome 15: GABRA5, GABRB3, and GABRG3. The last gen is the one accounted for alcoholism. BMC Biology stated that different genetic factors might lead to different way of consuming alcohol.

On the other side, the more sensitive GABA receptor works, it means there will be genetic factor accounted for alcoholism. As a result, the bigger behavioral effects will be, such as:

  • Fragile motor coordination
  • Loss of anxiety
  • Sedation

Different Genes, Different Reactions

Based on the research, each person has different reaction in tolerating alcohol intake to his or her body. People from East Asia like Korea, Japan, and China have relatively unstable production of enzyme that works to control alcohol in the liver. Acetaldehyde is not produced to be acetic acid, but stayed in the blood and liver. The characteristics are red face and neck, or sometimes to the entire body. And this condition is different with people from other country.

Above we have discussed about GABA, and studies have found out that there is a possibility of genetic factor within alcohol addiction cases. In conclusion, genetic is accounted for alcoholism. Like what Indiana University School of Medicine Stated, “Children with one or more alcoholic parents have a 2-4 fold higher chance of becoming alcoholic as an adult.”

Alcohol Use Disorder is Becoming “Big Deal”

The importance of discussing is genetic accounted for alcoholism is not merely for one aspect. In United States, at least 18 million adults are struggling with alcohol use disorder. It equals to 1 person for every 12 people. To make this issue more than a big deal, there are 100 thousand people die every year due to alcoholism. Genetic factor holds 50 percent as the cause of this condition.

In 2008, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in Maryland did the research about this. The result: genetic factor is accounted for 40-60 percent of alcohol use disorder. How does it work? The genes in our body are correlated with development of reward centers inside the brain. It is accounted for alcoholism. It also decides how someone reacts to alcohol intake. There are 3 factors influencing the susceptibility to alcoholism, which are:

  • Neuronal Pathways
  • Resilience to Stress
  • Behavioral Control

The brain reacts when there is alcohol intake to the body. It is closely related with reward and motivation mechanism. Let’s say there is someone who inherits variety of genes from their parents. He has high risk to be an alcoholic person. His nerve controls the limit of excitability. When he drinks alcohol, the hyper-excited nerve becomes normal. The more frequent he drinks; the brain will think that it is the best way to normalize the situation. The result is dependence to alcohol. The higher genetic factor he gets, the more likely he will experience alcohol use disorder.

The research from University of California, San Diego gave more emphasize to this fact. The alcoholism family factor will make someone has less sensitive respond to alcohol. The brain will tolerate the alcohol intake and still consider it as normal situation. As a result, the brain will adapt to the situation and leads to alcohol use disorder situation. So we can conclude that genetic is accounted for alcoholism.

The Role of Genes

When you wonder how genes affect the alcoholic use disorder behavior, we summarized the 3 expressions for you:

1. Abnormal Serotonin Level

Serotonin relates heavily to depression level. Also serotonin has the ability to regulate neurotransmitter and control the mood.

2. Smaller Amygdala

This expression was taken from the research within a family behavior. Like when there are more than 1 person in the family who have the same addiction to alcohol. Amygdala is also the place to control food intake, emotion, and cravings. Drinking alcoholic beverages relates heavily to this term, emphasizing to the pleasure and reward pathways.

3. Different Signs

By genetic predisposition of alcohol, there are different ways of body to give warning. Like what we mentioned above, every person has different limit of tolerance toward alcoholic drinks. Including when someone is having a change of behavior, the signs from brain or body will be vary from one person to another.


To conclude is genetic accounted for alcoholism? There are various arguments for this question. Even though someone has the possibility or genetic factor to be an alcoholic person, it won’t be high factor if he or she is not consuming alcoholic drinks. Or on the other side, when he or she started to drink also should be considered. So abstaining alcohol is the safest option for someone who has genetic predisposition to alcohol use disorder.

But once again, there is no single cause of alcohol use disorder. There should be multiple approaches in the future researches. It is not always a fix thing that someone with genetic factor will be alcoholic person, there are environmental factors also accounted for this. We can’t easily appoint which genes involved within psychiatric disorders, moreover if there are more genes discovered in the future.