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.
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Does Alcoholism Run in Families
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.
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.
Interventions and Solutions
Addressing familial alcoholism involves a combination of early education and prevention, therapy, counseling, and medical treatment solutions. These approaches can work collaboratively to manage the multi-faceted issue of alcoholism and its impacts on families.
Importance of Early Education and Prevention in Families
The concept of “prevention is better than cure” holds particularly true for alcoholism, especially when it’s deep-rooted in family history. Early education about the risks and dangers of excessive drinking and the genetic predisposition to alcoholism should be part of the growing-up process for children in such families.
Schools can play a vital role here, including information about the harmful effects of alcohol abuse in their health and social education curricula. Parents can reinforce this education at home, fostering a culture of open dialogue about alcohol and its potential misuse. Peer group workshops and community awareness programs can also help young people resist societal pressures to drink excessively.
Role of Therapy and Counseling for Families at Risk
Therapy and counseling have a crucial role in addressing alcoholism in families. They can provide coping mechanisms and tools to at-risk individuals, helping them navigate difficult situations without turning to alcohol.
Family therapy, in particular, can be beneficial in treating familial alcoholism. It helps to address family dynamics that may contribute to substance misuse and aids in healing the family system. It can also facilitate open communication, helping to rebuild trust and understanding within the family.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help individuals recognize patterns of behavior that lead to alcohol misuse and provide strategies to modify these behaviors. It is particularly effective in treating individuals who are genetically predisposed to alcoholism.
Medical Solutions: Medicine, Treatments, and Recovery Programs
While preventive and therapeutic measures are vital, medical solutions are often needed for individuals struggling with alcohol addiction. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can help alleviate cravings and withdrawal symptoms, making recovery more manageable. However, it’s crucial to remember that the use of medications should always be overseen by a qualified healthcare provider.
Alcoholism recovery programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs, offer a supportive community for individuals battling alcoholism. These programs provide a structured approach to recovery, assisting individuals in maintaining long-term sobriety.
Inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programs can also be highly effective, offering a combination of medical treatment, therapy, counseling, and ongoing support to help individuals overcome alcohol addiction. They also provide resources for families, helping them understand the nature of addiction and how they can support their loved ones during recovery.
Tackling alcoholism in families requires a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach. Early education and prevention, therapy, counseling, and medical treatments are critical in combating this deeply ingrained issue. Through these strategies, individuals and families can break the cycle of alcoholism and lead healthier, fulfilling lives.
The journey to recovery from alcoholism is complex and multi-faceted. While the path differs for everyone, comprehensive alcohol addiction treatment programs like those offered at Burning Tree Ranch provide the essential resources for a successful recovery.
Offering a unique combination of individual and group therapy, 12-step programs, and aftercare planning, Burning Tree Ranch is committed to supporting its clients every step of the way. Call our admissions staff for more information today if you or a family member needs help with alcoholism or alcohol relapse. Call (877) 389-0500.