Born an Addict?
Linda was 24, tall and slender. She had Windex blue eyes and a round face cuteified under a sprinkle of freckles. She didn’t know much about her biological father but she did know this:
For better or worse, when Linda was very young, her mother remarried. As often happens, Linda’s mother, repeating destructive behavior patterns, chose another man who would also be an alcoholic.
Linda had alcoholism in her genes and in her environment.
Was she doomed?
More Likely, Yes, but Not Inevitable
When she came of age, Linda made a decision that she would avoid alcohol. This was smart. Though no one is born an addict, her genome had been loaded up with enough genetic and environmental factors to make her fears legitimate.
There is no such thing as a single addiction gene or a single reason why anyone should become an alcoholic. Alcoholism, like any kind of addiction, is a complex condition involving a variety of social, family, psychological, environmental, and genetic factors.
The Chemistry of Addiction
One characteristic of an alcoholic predisposition is a lack of beta-endorphin, a kind of “morphine” the brain releases in response to situations like pain – an “endogenous analgesic” the brain uses to numb or dull pains. In studies, chronic alcohol abusers have shown to have lower levels of beta-endorphin. The reason: When a person with a low level of the endorphin becomes accustomed to the presence of alcohol-released endorphins, the production of endogenous beta-endorphins stops and the brain develops a dependence on the external source.1
For this, Linda was fortunate: She had only one parent who was alcoholic. With two alcoholic parents, beta-endorphin levels can be even lower2 and the likelihood of alcoholic disorders higher.
Then There’s Epigenitics
There are genes and then there’s chemicals that effect the expression of those genes: This is called epigenetics. Think of your genes as a computer and epigenetics as the software. Epigenetics not only tell the genes when, where, and how to work, it can also determine disease susceptibility. Your body’s “environmental” factors can switch this computer on or off depending. These factors can include anything around you such as toxins, nutrition, exercise, pollution, stress, trauma, overwork, poverty, and substance abuse.
Gene expression can also be affected with exposure to alcohol. Alcohol, through chronic overindulgence or even episodes of binge drinking, can modify the proteins that influence gene expression and have an adverse effect on the genetic code and how it is regulated. In the process cells get damaged, inflame, and lead to diseases like cirrhosis of the liver and cancer.
That means that an alcoholic or bingeing father can alter his genes through overconsumption in ways that will affect his future offspring. This has been shown through research on mice though it seems that it can only happen with fathers and sons and, for reasons not yet understood, not for fathers and daughters.3 So, epigenetics may’ve not been Linda’s problem.
Also, your epigenetics are not a life sentence. Many changes caused by epigenetics can be transient and reversible. Changes are also possible in recovery: A stimulating, nurturing environment in recovery can significantly help effect positive changes.
Knowing Is Protecting
Whether your battle with booze is a part of your DNA or not, it doesn’t have to be a part of your destiny. According to a recent Swedish study4, we know that children of alcoholics can be four times more likely than other children to become alcoholics themselves. Being aware of your family history with alcohol can make an enormous difference to your future health and safety. Respecting this history can decrease your chances of developing alcoholism. Not everyone has the same ability to recognize alcohol intoxication: Those with a “low level of response” to intoxication are more at risk of developing an alcohol-use disorder5. Unlike those with a higher level of response to alcohol, those with a lower response don’t perceive the changes in how their brain is working, even with modest amounts of consumption. As a result, they tend to drink more.
What If This Is You – What Can Be Done?
- If your father suffered from severe alcoholism, and you’re male, you should probably avoid alcohol entirely.
- If your mother, father, or any grandparent were an alcoholic, you could be at a high risk for alcohol abuse. If you choose to drink, take care to limit your intake to one or two drinks per sitting. Avoid drinking every day and especially when you’re depressed or alone.
- If you do find yourself drinking to excess – drinking more than five drinks in a sitting, drinking to get drunk, or finding yourself unable to remember what happened after you were drinking – you may be in danger of a serious alcohol disorder. You should get help right away.
It was long believed that alcoholism ran in families, even before there was any science to back it up.
Though Linda probably wasn’t aware of the science, she knew enough about the life of an alcoholic to know it was not the kind of life she wanted to live. In the end she may’ve sacrificed some wild times and revelry, but – as she said many times, it’s a decision she’d never regretted.
If you or a loved one feels a need to overcome an addiction, contact BLVD Treatment Centers. At BLVD Treatment Centers we custom tailor our recovery programs within the safe and nurturing confines of our rehab treatment centers. Located throughout Southern California, in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and in Portland, OR, our mission is to assess the severity of your addiction to help you achieve true recovery. Call us now at 1-866.582.9844.