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Some people have a genetic sensitivity to alcohol. Certain genes also increase the risk of a person developing alcohol use disorder (AUD). According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “Research shows that genes are responsible for about half of the risk for AUD.” In addition, “Scientists are also exploring how genes may influence the effectiveness of treatments for AUD.” West Coast Recovery Centers educates clients and their loved ones about the connection between alcohol addiction and genetics. Treatment programs are tailored to the needs of each client, ensuring clients with a higher genetic risk of AUD have personalized relapse prevention strategies to support long-term sobriety. 

How Can Genetics Influence Alcohol Addiction?

Some people metabolize alcohol differently due to specific inherited genes, causing higher instances of dependency or more severe physical reactions to alcohol. According to the previously mentioned article by NIAAA, “For instance, some people of Asian descent carry a gene variant that alters their rate of alcohol metabolism, causing them to have symptoms like flushing, nausea, and rapid heartbeat when they drink.” How a person’s body responds to alcohol directly impacts their likelihood of developing dependency or addiction. Children of individuals with AUD have an increased risk of alcohol sensitivity and dependence. 

Do Genes Cause Alcohol Addiction?

Genes don’t cause alcohol abuse. People with AUD often have multiple underlying issues impacting their mental and physical health. A genetic predisposition is only one potential factor. According to MedlinePlus, “The causes of alcohol use disorder are complex” resulting “from a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors, some of which have not been identified.” 

Genetics affect the development of AUD in several ways, including: 

  • Increased susceptibility to dependency and addiction
  • Greater risk of multigenerational alcohol abuse
  • Changes in brain chemistry, including neurotransmitters affected by alcohol 

People with certain genetic predispositions may have an increased risk of AUD if they have certain mental health disorders, including major depressive disorder (MDD). Individuals with genes affecting alcohol tolerance benefit from receiving professional treatment for MDD or other mental health conditions.

What Is the Scientific Evidence Linking Alcohol Addiction and Genetics?

Researchers are still uncertain of all the potential ways genetics may impact a person’s susceptibility to AUD. However, specific genes are known to affect people’s physical and mental reactions to alcohol. According to Nature Reviews Gastroenterology and Hepatology, “[T]wo genes of alcohol metabolism, ADH1B and ALDH2 . . . have the strongest known [effects] on risk for alcoholism.” In addition, “Studies are revealing other genes in which variants impact risk for alcoholism or related traits, including GABRA2, CHRM2, KCNJ6, and AUTS2.”

Genes have a variety of effects on people who regularly drink alcohol. Some of the most important genes known to influence alcohol use include: 

  • ADH1B: Metabolizes ethanol and contributes to eliminating ethanol from blood 
  • ALDH2: Protects against oxidative stress and body toxicity during alcohol metabolism 
  • GABRA2: Contributes to the development of anxiety, depression, addiction, schizophrenia, and behavioral issues
  • CHRM2: Contributes to memory and cognitive issues
  • KCNJ6: Regulates reward centers of the brain 
  • OPRM1: Plays a role in the reward center of the brain and reinforces the addictive nature of alcohol 
  • AUTS2: Regulates various essential brain activities 

A genetic predisposition does not mean a person is going to develop alcohol dependency or addictive behaviors. However, individuals with a higher risk of AUD benefit from early intervention and treatment if they begin to experience alcohol dependency. Delaying treatment may cause more severe symptoms for individuals with some genetic predispositions. 

How Do Alcohol Addiction and Genetics Impact Treatment?

A person’s response to treatment depends on a wide range of factors. Many motivations and risk factors play a role in the development of AUD. According to Addictive Behaviors, “A number of different motives for drinking alcohol have been examined, including drinking to enhance sociability, to increase power, to escape problems, to get drunk, for enjoyment, or for ritualistic reasons.”

Individuals who have a genetic predisposition to alcohol abuse may also have other factors impacting their sobriety, including: 

  • Unhealthy family dynamics and relationship issues 
  • Trauma and chronic stress
  • Environmental factors 
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders 
  • Peer pressure 

Genetics impact treatment and recovery by causing more severe symptoms and side effects. People’s choices, relationships, and environment all affect how they respond to treatment for alcohol abuse. 

Why Is Psychoeducation Important During Treatment?

People with AUD have a greater likelihood of having children and other close family members affected by alcohol misuse. Psychoeducation provides clients and their families with information about the potential dangers and risk factors associated with certain genes. West Coast Recovery Centers educates clients and families about the connections between alcohol addiction and genetics. The clinical team also provides information on other important factors when explaining AUD diagnosis and prognosis. Clients and their loved ones are given essential information for reducing the risk of future mental health or substance abuse disorders. Families often use this information to make meaningful changes to reduce triggers and environmental factors. 

Recent research into the connection between genetics and alcohol abuse has revealed many potential genetic factors. Some people have a genetic predisposition to addictive behaviors, while others may experience unusual side effects after drinking significant amounts of alcohol. West Coast Recovery Centers helps clients determine if genetics played a role in their addiction. Genetic factors may impact treatment and aftercare for some clients. People with genetic factors influencing their mental and physical health also benefit from learning more about their condition. Clinicians use psychoeducation to inform clients and their loved ones of the potential issues caused by genetic factors. To learn more about our programs and services, call our office today at (760) 492-6509.

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