Whether you have been personally impacted by alcoholism and alcohol use disorder or not, you may have noticed that the misuse and overuse of this legal but highly dangerous drug tend to run in families. 

Maybe you grew up in an alcoholic household and you are concerned about your own use of alcohol. 

The fact that alcoholism does tend to run in families has been pretty well established, but the actual reasons are still a bit unclear. 

Is alcoholism actually hereditary? Is there an alcoholism gene that scientists can discover and one day turn off? Is the environment at least partially to blame, or do all of these factors combine to make the abuse of alcohol possible? 

Here are some of the reasons behind the seemingly familial problem of alcoholism, binge drinking, and other forms of substance abuse.

Genetic Predisposition

There is a growing body of evidence that alcoholism is at least partially genetic in nature, although that does not mean that being the child of an alcoholic dooms an individual to a life of heavy drinking. While genes are thought to play a role, genetics is not destiny, and there are deliberate actions the children of alcoholics can take to make their own substance abuse less likely.

As of this writing, scientists have yet to find a smoking gun, or a smoking gene, that predisposes an individual to a life of alcoholism. What the medical and scientific community has found is that there does seem to be a familial, and probably a genetic, link between family members when it comes to alcohol abuse.

In-Utero Brain Damage

While genes are thought to play at least some role in the development of alcoholism in later life, there may be simpler, and more heartbreaking, reasons why the children of alcoholics often struggle with substance abuse when they get older.

The link between drinking alcohol while pregnant and brain damage in the fetus has been long established, and this pregnancy-related alcohol use can induce brain damage in the child, predisposing the unlucky individual to learning disabilities, problems with motor function and, yes, substance use disorder.

This does not mean, of course, that every child of alcoholics will suffer these negative consequences, and early intervention can reduce the impact even of heavy drinking in pregnancy. What it does mean is that prospective parents should receive counseling about the importance of avoiding alcohol in pregnancy and that quality treatment should be made available to would-be moms.

Post-Birth Alcohol Exposure

For the children of alcoholics, exposure to the drug is unlikely to end at birth. Mothers who drink heavily while breastfeeding their babies will inevitably end up passing this dangerous drug on to their children, creating a huge number of problems down the line.

This post-birth alcohol exposure could be yet another reason why alcoholism appears to run in families. The explanation for these familial links could be as simple as the presence of toxic substances in the breast milk of mothers who struggle with alcoholism and other forms of substance use disorder.

Environmental Factors

By now it should be clear that genetic predisposition is not the only factor at play in the fact that alcoholism tends to run in families. From fetal alcohol syndrome and pre-birth brain damage to exposure to alcohol, later on, all of these factors could be at play, but there could be an even bigger issue.

The mere fact that the children of alcoholics grow up in homes where alcohol is ubiquitous could be the simplest explanation of all for why this all too common disease tends to run in families. While the children of social drinkers may go years without seeing their parents drink, and a lifetime without seeing them under the influence, the same cannot be true for the offspring of the alcoholic.

For those born into alcoholic families, this kind of drug use is apparent and obvious from an early age. Simply having alcohol around makes it more likely that curious teenagers will take a taste, and perhaps end up abusing alcohol in their turn.

The fact that alcohol is always around and always available can be incredibly tempting for those born into alcoholic households. This, combined with genetic predispositions and other factors, no doubt plays a role in the fact that the abuse of alcohol seems to run in families.

No matter who you are or what kind of family you were born into, it is important to watch out for the early warning signs of alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Being the child of an alcoholic can indeed increase your own risk, but the fact that your mom and dad were teetotalers does not mean you are off the hook.

Get Help

If you or a family member needs help getting sober, then call our admissions staff for more information. Call (877) 389-0500.