According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 4 to 5 percent of the population are affected by alcoholism. Alcohol abuse involves a number of different factors, but research suggests a strong link between alcoholism and family history. Although other factors may also contribute to alcohol dependence, this genetic link must be considered when evaluating people for their risk of developing the disease.
Twin Studies on Alcoholism
The most accurate data for studying the link between alcohol and family history involves using identical twins as subjects. These twins have virtually the same genetic makeup and provide a close look at how genetic factors influence drinking. These studies show that drinking patterns of twins are remarkably similar, even when the twins are raised apart from each other.
Adopted Subject Studies
Research on alcohol and family history also involves subjects who were adopted at birth. By using these subjects, scientists were able to separate the “nature” and “nurture,” both factors believed to contribute to the development of alcoholism. They found that adopted children of alcoholics continued to have a higher rate of alcoholism regardless of whether they were adopted into drinking or non-drinking families. This link between genetics and the tendency to abuse alcohol appears to be stronger in male offspring than in female offspring of alcoholics.
Alcoholism and Family Relationship
The link between alcoholism and family history is strongest in a first-degree relationship; that is, when the parents are alcoholics. Researchers found that the risk of becoming an alcoholic is 2 to 4 times higher in subjects whose parents were alcoholics. The genetic factors for tolerance of alcohol appears to be 90 percent inherited.
Family Environmental Factors
Genetics only affects about half of the factors involved in alcoholism. The studies also found that living in a culture of drinking also contributes to the risks for alcoholism. If you have family and friends that drink regularly, always have alcohol available and include alcohol as part of every gathering, the risks increase for developing alcoholism.
Alcoholism and Family Dynamics
Another way that family history can increase the risk for alcoholism is the learned measures for covering up alcohol problems. High consumption of alcohol may simply be dismissed as “partying hard.” The family may encourage drinking as a way to deal with stress or depression. The family may use language that easily dismisses questions about alcohol use. Family members may be assigned certain roles to help cover up and excuse the drinking. These habits can help to enable drinking problems within the family structure over the long term.