When it comes to alcoholism, family history can mean a lot. Between genetic traits and predispositions that get passed down and the coping mechanisms parents model for their children, younger family members can inherit similar attitudes toward alcohol as older family members, for better or worse.
It can be hard to recognize if you have a problem with alcohol consumption. Knowing the effects family history can have on drinking can greatly influence how you approach drinking. This guide can help you work through the complicated relationship you and your family may have with alcohol.
Is Alcoholism Genetic?
The results of a 1996 study in the journal Hepatology about whether alcoholism is genetic were relatively inconclusive. While some people who were children of alcoholics did experience alcohol use disorder, this was true of fewer than half of those included in the study.
Overall, the study found that being the child of an alcoholic does not guarantee that you will be an alcoholic but it also does not guarantee that you will not. You may have what is referred to as a genetic predisposition which means that there is a chance that your body might develop a dependency on alcohol more quickly and easily than others.
Another contributing factor to familial alcoholism is learned behavior. To put it simply, learned behaviors are the coping mechanisms—among other things—you develop by observing the people who raised you. For example, if your parents turn to a bottle to cope with daily life stressors, this subconsciously teaches you that alcohol is a way to deal with difficult things.
This is not to say that because your parents have a drink after a long day of work you are destined to be an alcoholic. It is simply something to keep in mind when you are drinking. If your reason for having an alcoholic beverage is to attempt to drown out or escape from your thoughts or feelings, you may be using alcohol as an unhealthy coping mechanism. Excessive drinking can be a slippery slope that leads to alcoholism.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
When talking about family history, it is important to talk about the most devastating result that can occur between an alcoholic parent and child, which is fetal alcohol syndrome. This occurs when the mother of a child consumes alcohol while pregnant. Many disorders can occur as a result of this action.
Common afflictions can be seen in the cardiac system with defects of the arteries. Neurological and psychiatric disorders such as seizures and mood disorders can also occur. The list goes on to even include renal disorders, like horseshoe kidneys. The dangers of drinking while pregnant are overwhelming.
What You Can Do
With all this information, it can be difficult to know how to move forward once you know your family's history of alcohol use. You may be asking yourself what you can do to prevent or treat alcoholism for yourself or other members of your family. Here are a few things that can help:
Look for the Warning Signs
Keep an eye on warning signs of alcohol use disorder if you drink casually. When there is a history of alcoholism in the family it can be easy for casual drinking to slip into the path of alcoholism. When you are drinking, ask yourself questions like, “Am I able to stop after just one drink?” “When was the last time I was drinking?” and, “For what purpose am I drinking now?” These types of questions help you realize whether your drinking is under control.
If you are drinking to cope with the stresses of life, this could be a red flag. Try some alternatives to drinking to help avoid the alcoholic tendencies you may have in your genetics or coping mechanisms you may have been taught. Meditation and yoga are excellent ways to cope with stress. If that does not fit your lifestyle or taste, you can try other mental health-boosting activities such as exercise or working on a hobby project.
If You Need Help
Maybe you have tried everything and find that your drinking habits are still unmanageable. If this is true, consider seeking help. There are many options available and you can find a treatment plan that suits your needs.
There are a variety of inpatient and outpatient programs that make it easy to fit treatment into your life, as well as places to safely detox from alcohol if your health is a concern. If you are struggling with your drinking you should get the help you need. For some, this is difficult to believe, but there are people out there who want to see you get healthy so you can be the best version of yourself.
Family history when it comes to alcoholism can be difficult to navigate. You may worry that if you stop drinking you'll lose a connection you have with the people you are closest to but at the same time recognize that your drinking has become problematic and affected your daily life. Luckily, there are professionals who can help. NorthStar Transitions, located in Boulder, CO, can help you navigate the challenging path of addiction recovery. They offer the support you need when it comes to uncontrollable drinking whether it is your first time getting treatment or you're recovering from a relapse. We can help guide you through the messy family dynamics. If you or someone you love is in need of treatment, look no further than NorthStar. You can take the first steps toward sobriety by calling us today at (303) 558-6400.