There's Alcoholism in My Family History: Am I Destined for Addiction, Too?

There's Alcoholism in My Family History: Am I Destined for Addiction, Too?

In the United States, almost 14.5 million people aged 12 and up have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), more commonly referred to as alcoholism. Only 10% of them receive any kind of treatment or intervention to help them break the addiction and recover.

If you have blood relatives who suffer from AUD, you may worry that you’re at risk, too. Even though research suggests that genes affect the way that you react to alcohol, including a tendency toward addiction, that isn’t the whole story. In fact, more important than the “genes” you inherited may be the behaviors around alcohol you were exposed to as a child.

At The Soho Center for Mental Health, our team of expert counselors diagnose and treat substance use disorders, including alcoholism, at our offices in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York City. Just the fact that you’re worried about possibly “inheriting” a tendency toward alcoholism is a good sign. Here’s what to know about your risk. 

Childhood abuse increases your risk

Children whose parents or other caretakers had an AUD are often exposed to violent or traumatic situations. Simply seeing the parent or guardian who’s supposed to protect you in an incapacitated state may be terrifying. 

More than 10% of children under age 17 in the US live with at least one parent with an AUD. Adults whose judgment is impaired may be violent or sexually abusive, including toward the children they’re supposed to protect.

Even if you didn’t inherit the genes for an AUD, if you were exposed to a family member’s AUD, you may have inherited their tendency to use alcohol as a form of self-medication. Whether you currently have problems with substance use or not, getting therapy helps you develop new strategies for managing stress that don’t include substance use.

Mental health disorders increase your risk

Many women, men, and children with AUD are attempting to self-medicate because they suffer from a mental health disorder. Mental health issues that go hand-in-hand with AUD include:

If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, or if you struggle with self-esteem issues or anxiety, therapy and treatment can reduce your risk.

Certain behaviors raise your risk

If you began drinking at a young age — particularly binge drinking — you’re more at risk for AUD, even if your relatives don’t have AUD. Hanging out in a crowd where drinking is “cool” is associated with AUD. In other words, the family you choose (your friends) may be even more important than the family into which you were born.

Drinking too much or too often also raises your risk. Excessive amounts of alcohol actually change the way your brain functions and the way you behave. You may start craving alcohol just to feel “normal” again.

Drinking in moderation may be OK if you don’t have other risk factors. Moderation means one or fewer drinks per day for women and two drinks or fewer for men. “One” drink differs by type of alcohol:

Binge drinking and heavy drinking raise your risk for accidents and serious illness, including stroke. Binge drinking is defined as having four or more drinks during a single occasion for women and five or more for men.

Heavy drinking is defined as consuming eight or more drinks per week for women. For men, indulging in 15 or more drinks per week is categorized as heavy drinking. 

Binge drinkers and heavy drinkers don’t necessarily have an AUD. However, this pattern of drinking has other risks associated with it, including alcohol poisoning and car crashes. Heavy drinking can also destroy relationships and careers.

Reach out for help as soon as you need it

If you worry that you’re at risk for AUD, therapy can help you understand your risk factors, your family and personal history, and your drinking patterns. By being proactive about your relationship with alcohol, you take control of your destiny, no matter your genetic makeup.

To get help with breaking an alcohol addiction or processing the trauma that puts you at risk for one, contact our team for a consultation and customized treatment today. Our office also offers teletherapy via a secure online portal.

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