Is Alcoholism Genetic, a Legitimate Disease, or Just a Character Flaw?
There are tons of negative stigmas placed around every type of addiction, including addictions like alcoholism and drug addictions. Because of this, many people who suffer from this dangerous and terrifying disease tend to suffer in silence, living in fear of the judgment they are likely to face if they were to seek help. Additionally, these stigmas place the blame on those suffering from addictions like alcoholism when the truth is, they have little to no control over their disease.
Alcoholism is a complex genetic disease that can take a toll on one’s relationships, career, health, and overall quality of life. Unfortunately, many stigmas make the assumption that those suffering from alcoholism should just never have had a drink in the first place or should just stay away from alcohol. The truth is, though, the development of alcoholism is not that simple. So, what was the reason behind the formation of these stigmas? Do they have some truth to them? What leads to the development of alcoholism?
Those who suffer from alcoholism are not the only people in the world who have had a drink before. Most people around the world have had alcohol at one point in their lives or another. It is consumed at parties, celebrations, and important milestones in just about every culture. However, most people who drink alcohol are able to control their drinking habits and do not feel a need to consume more and more alcohol. Those who suffer from alcohol addiction, on the other hand, tend to find themselves unable to control their desire and need for alcohol. As a result, their cravings for alcohol become a constant in their life, which may lead to them beginning to prioritize sneaking in a drink over their personal responsibilities and loved ones.
The need for alcohol becomes so great for those suffering from alcoholism that they may begin to feel as though they cannot function properly without the alcohol. This need for a drink can begin to take a toll on the person’s relationships, career, finances, reputation, and overall quality of life.
Alcoholism is a dangerous disease that, if left untreated, will likely worsen over time. Excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to many health issues such as heart disease, alcohol poisoning, liver disease, and even death.
Addiction and Genetics
There has been an abundance of evidence that points to alcoholism being a disease determined by genetics. It has been known for a long time that alcoholism tends to run in families. Studies that have concentrated on children of adopted parents have found that the probability of alcoholism was determined by their biological parents rather than their adoptive parents, showing that biology seems to have a more substantial effect on alcoholism than one’s environment. Other studies have focused on selectively breeding rats with traits that are correlated with symptoms of alcoholism, such as preference, sensitivity, and withdrawal struggles.
While there is no specific “alcoholism” trait, there are many genetic traits that can place one at risk for or protect against the development of alcoholism, with their environment playing a significant role in the outcome of those traits. Genes that are well known to contribute to the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder are the genes that play a part in how the body metabolizes the alcohol after it is consumed. Certain genes, like the one that causes flushing in the face, nausea, and an increased heart rate that is a common trait seen in East Asia, can act as a deterrent from alcohol. This gene, though not 100% effective, can help prevent the development of alcohol addiction. On the other hand, genes like GABRA2 have been shown to increase one’s risk of developing alcohol addiction.
Alcoholism is a Disease
When you picture somebody suffering from a disease, alcoholism typically does not fit the bill. This disease, however, is chronic and can worsen over time. It can even be fatal. Somebody who is suffering from alcoholism will find themselves obsessing over the thought of taking a drink. That person will find themselves powerless to this obsession, feeling as though they are only able to silence their mind’s begging by finding a way to get a drink.
According to a report done by the Surgeon General titled “The Neurobiology of Substance Use, Misuse, and Addiction,” substance use disorders- like alcoholism- are a result of actual changes within the brain, with severe disorders changing the function of the brain’s pleasure, learning, stress, decision-making and self-control areas.
Alcohol produces a surge of dopamine to the basal ganglia, which is the area of the brain that controls rewards and how we learn from them. This allows the brain to feel a surge of pleasure. The more one uses alcohol, the less pleasurable it feels, as our brain begins to adapt and becomes desensitized to the dopamine. This leaves someone suffering from an alcohol addiction drained of their feelings of pleasure, which leads to them simply seeking feelings of normalcy from the alcohol rather than the pleasure it used to bring.
The Harmful Stigma Around Alcoholism
When alcoholism is untreated, it will likely become more and more severe, leading to a negative impact on one’s overall quality of life and, possibly, death. Those who suffer from alcoholism, however, tend to suffer in silence. Why? Because there is an extremely negative stigma placed around addiction that makes people who are suffering afraid to reach out for the help they need. The fear that one may be judged as morally corrupt, a bad decision-maker, or worse is enough to prevent anyone from seeking help with their addiction. Addiction is not a character flaw. Addiction is not simply bad decision-making. Addiction is a complex genetic disorder that can leave a person powerless to their cravings for alcohol.
If you or somebody you love are suffering from alcohol addiction, there is help. Contact a mental health professional at Rhapsody Behavioral Healthcare today to find your way on the path to recovery.