Your Family History and Risk for Alcoholism

If your parent, sibling or other close relative has struggled with alcoholism, you may wonder what this means for you. Are drinking problems looming in your future? Are you more likely to become an alcoholic than people with no family history of alcoholism?

Your concerns are normal and understandable. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says researchers have asked similar questions. Scientific studies of children of alcoholics (COAs) have found that genetic factors influence alcoholism.

In fact, children with alcoholic parents are four times more likely than the general population to develop drinking problems. They are also more likely to develop emotional and behavioral problems. Despite the risks, more than half of all COAs never struggle with alcohol.

Many factors other than genetics influence your risk of alcoholism. How parents treat each other and their children has a huge influence on family members. Other aspects of family life also play a role. Here are five things in your family history that may put you at risk for alcoholism.

1. One of your parents is an alcoholic.

As stated above, heredity influences alcoholism. The genes you inherit from an alcoholic parent increase your risk of drinking problems. They also increase the risk of other emotional and behavioral problems.

2. You’re alcoholic parent has depression.

Your risk of alcoholism increases if your alcoholic parent has depression or other psychological problems like anxiety or bipolar disorder. The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research says it’s common for people with mental health problems to struggle with substance abuse.

3. Both of your parents abuse alcohol or drugs.

If both of your parents have substance abuse problems with alcohol or drugs, your alcoholism risk increases. Substance abuse creates a toxic home environment, and countless adult COAs are drawn to this environment. Many of them marry someone with a drinking problem.

4. The alcoholism or drug abuse is severe.

If your parents struggle with severe alcoholism or drug problems, your own risk increases. Social drinking is more likely to turn to binge drinking, which can lead to a physical dependence on alcohol. It can also lead to mixing alcohol with drugs.

5. Conflicts at home lead to family violence.

Conflicts that lead to aggression or family violence also put you at risk for alcoholism. Sometimes, drinking problems cause family violence such as physical or sexual abuse. Other times, families turn to alcohol to cope with the violence.

Fortunately, a family history of alcoholism does not mean you will develop a drinking problem. Even a troubled home life with alcoholic parents does not guarantee that you will become an alcoholic. While your risk is certainly higher, there are things you can do to prevent alcoholism.

If you are a teenager, avoid underage drinking. Not only is it illegal, but it increases your risk due to genetic and environmental factors. A supportive adult such as a grandparent, teacher or family friend can help you develop coping skills to combat the negative effects of alcoholism at home.

Drink alcohol moderately if you are an adult child of alcoholics. Moderation can counter your risk for alcohol dependency. If you need someone to talk to, share your concerns with a doctor, nurse, counselor, pastor or friend. There are also groups and organizations to help you avoid drinking problems.

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