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Genetic Predisposition to Alcoholism

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen•edited by: Emma Lloyd•updated: 9/24/2010

Are you looking for information on the genetics of alcoholism? If so, read on to learn whether or not genetics plays a role.

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    The genetics of alcoholism is a topic of much controversy. Many feel that there is a genetic predisposition to this disease, while others feel that alcoholism is not a disease, but an addiction that an individual brings upon himself. Exploring the possible genetic predisposition to this disease is something that researchers do every day, but what have they found?

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    What is Alcoholism?

    Alcoholism is an addictive disorder in which an individual is dependent on alcohol. They consume alcohol uncontrollably and compulsively, despite the negative effects on the relationships, health, and social standing of the individual. A study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco estimates that in the United States, more than 76 million people are affected, either indirectly or directly, by alcoholism and that about 100,000 deaths each year are associated with alcoholism, making it the third leading cause of anticipated deaths in the United States. Alcohol depresses the nervous system, reducing its activity and ability to function normally. Alcohol is unique in that it is much harder to become addicted to than most other drugs. Individuals must consume large amounts of alcohol in order to build up their tolerance, and eventually become addicted. Since women are naturally less tolerant to alcohol than men are, women are nearly three times less to become problem drinkers, with an estimated 9.8 million men having an alcohol problem and 3.9 million women having an alcohol problem.

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    Is Alcoholism Genetic?

    Many studies have been conducted that have supported genetic findings about alcoholism. Certain findings are leading toward specific chromosomes. The Collaborative Study of the Genetics of Alcoholism studied 105 families consisting of 987 individuals that contained at least three first-degree relatives that stated they had alcohol dependence. This study showed that there is a strong link between chromosome 1 and chromosome 7 and a predisposition to alcohol dependence. There was weak evidence linking chromosome 2 to alcohol dependence. A marker referred to as the dopamine D2 receptor was found more often in those with alcoholism than it was in those without alcoholism.

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    Environmental Influence

    More than 6 million children under 18 years of age reside in a home with at least one parent with alcoholism. Alcohol is also prevalently found in United States schools and among peers. It is thought that having a genetic predisposition as well as being in an environment where it is often consumed and readily available, puts an individual at the highest risk. However, this controversial debate, as long as research to prove and disprove it, is still being conducted and it could be quite some time before we get the official ruling on whether a person is genetically and/or environmentally predisposed to alcoholism.

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    Portland State University. (2010). Alcoholism and Genetics. Retrieved on September 5, 2010 from Portland State University:

    MedlinePlus. (2010). Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. Retrieved on September 5, 2010 from MedlinePlus: