Alcohol Addiction Genetics: What You Need To Know

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Alcohol Addiction Genetics: What You Need To Know

Date of Content: October 3, 2023
Written by: Jess Gayo
Reviewed by: Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD


What is Alcohol Addiction?


While a glass of wine every now and again is perfectly fine for many adult individuals, frequent alcohol consumption in large quantities can lead to problems in the future. An individual with alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD), consumes alcohol compulsively and uncontrollably despite the harmful effects. Millions of people around the world are impacted by this intricate medical and psychological problem. 

Genetic, environmental, and psychological variables all play a role in the emergence of alcohol addiction. Some people may be genetically prone to developing alcohol use disorder (AUD). In contrast, environmental factors like peer pressure, traumatic events, or easy access to alcohol can also hasten this disorder’s start. It is possible that psychological issues such as stress, worry, and sadness are also important.

Numerous issues with one’s physical and mental health might result from alcoholism. Chronic alcohol usage increases the risk of diseases like dementia, cardiovascular disease, and liver cirrhosis by harming the brain, heart, and liver. Additionally, it may exacerbate mental health conditions including anxiety and sadness. Fortunately, alcohol addiction is treatable and manageable with the help of different treatments.

alcohol addiction

Why is Alcohol Addiction a Problem?

Alcoholism is a serious issue with wide-ranging effects that have an impact on society as a whole as well as on individuals. This syndrome is linked to a number of serious health issues. It can cause neurological abnormalities, cardiovascular problems, several types of cancer, and liver cirrhosis. These health problems not only reduce a person’s quality of life but also heavily tax healthcare systems.

Aside from its negative impacts on the individual, alcoholism also has a negative impact on society as a whole, including problems like family dissolution, domestic abuse, and neglect of children. Additionally, it has a major economic impact because of the billions of dollars in annual costs associated with addiction-related healthcare, lost productivity, and legal charges. Additionally, driving under the influence is a major factor in deadly accidents and traffic fatalities all over the world. Alcohol addicts are more likely to participate in risky behaviors, such as impaired driving and the endangerment of other road users as well as themselves.

Hereditary or Developed: What Causes Alcohol Addiction?

The complicated condition known as alcohol use disorder (AUD) is influenced by a number of hereditary, environmental, and psychological variables. Alcohol addiction is significantly influenced by genetics. Some people can be more prone to developing AUD because of a hereditary predisposition. A person’s risk can be raised by a family history of alcoholism. Alcohol addiction can also be influenced by external elements from the environment, such as social, cultural, and economic issues. Alcoholism that is excessive can be encouraged by peer pressure, easy access to alcohol, and exposure to a drinking culture.

Genetic Causes

Alcohol addiction has extensive and complicated genetic roots that involve several genes and their interactions. Although there isn’t just one “alcohol addiction gene,” scientists have found a number of genetic markers and variations that are linked to an elevated risk of AUD.

Alcohol Metabolism Genes

ADH (Alcohol Dehydrogenase) Genes

The rate at which a person metabolizes alcohol might vary depending on genetic variations in the enzymes that code for alcohol dehydrogenases, which are in charge of breaking down alcohol in the body. Some people have a genetic predisposition to metabolize alcohol more slowly, which can increase the risk of AUD when exposed to alcohol for a longer period of time.

ALDH (Aldehyde Dehydrogenase) Genes

Similarly, variations in aldehyde dehydrogenase gene expression can affect how alcohol is metabolized. A poisonous chemical called acetaldehyde, which can accumulate more with certain genetic variations, can cause unpleasant effects such as nausea and face flushing. These unpleasant side effects can make drinking less appealing and lower the chance of addiction.

GABAergic and Glutamatergic Systems

GABRA2 (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid Receptor Alpha 2) Gene

AUD susceptibility has been connected to variations of this gene. The GABAergic system, which is involved in reducing brain activity, is influenced by GABRA2. This system’s dysregulation can be a factor in alcohol dependence and cravings.

GRM7 (Glutamate Metabotropic Receptor 7) Gene

AUD has also been linked to genetic polymorphisms in GRM7, a component of the glutamatergic system. Excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate is implicated in reward pathways, and flaws in this system can affect the likelihood of developing alcohol addiction.

Reward and Dopaminergic Pathways

DRD2 (Dopamine Receptor D2) Gene

There is a correlation between higher susceptibility to addictive behaviors, especially alcohol addiction, and genetic variations in the DRD2 gene, which is associated with dopamine receptors in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter linked to reward and pleasure, and changes in how it is regulated can lead to addictive behaviors.

Opioid System

OPRM1 (Opioid Receptor Mu 1) Gene

Differences in reward response and alcohol sensitivity have been linked to variations in the OPRM1 gene. Some variations may increase a person’s susceptibility to alcohol’s rewarding effects, raising the likelihood of addiction.

Neurotransmitter Transporters

SLC6A3 (Dopamine Transporter) Gene

Dopamine modulation in the brain may be impacted by genetic differences in SLC6A3, the dopamine transporter. Changes in dopamine transport may affect a person’s propensity to get addicted to alcohol.

Other Genetic Markers for AUD

In LifeDNA’s alcohol consumption report, researchers study other genetic markers for AUD including ADH1B (rs1229984), ADH1B (rs1789891), ADH1B (rs1229984), MTIF2, PRORSD1P (rs1437396), ADH7, ADH1B (rs4699741), ADH1B (rs2066702), PECR, MREG (rs7590720), SERINC2 (rs4478858), KIAA0040 (rs6425323), and THSD7B (rs1869324).

These genetic risk factors alone do not predict the onset of alcoholism. An individual’s risk is influenced by genetic, environmental, psychological, and social factors. Furthermore, genetics cannot fully account for the intricacy of alcohol addiction on its own. In order to develop a more complete knowledge of AUD, researchers are still investigating the complex interactions between genetics and other factors. For people at risk of alcohol addiction, this knowledge can inform preventative measures and individualized treatment plans.

Non-Genetic or Environmental Causes

The onset of alcohol addiction is largely influenced by genetics, but an individual’s susceptibility to AUD is also greatly influenced by environmental circumstances. The complicated nature of AUD is a result of the interaction between genetic predispositions and these non-genetic or environmental causes.

Early Exposure and Family Environment

  • Early Exposure to Alcohol: Young people who are exposed to alcohol, especially during adolescence, are more likely to acquire AUD. Early alcohol consumption can pave the way for persistently harmful drinking practices.
  • Family Environment: Growing up in a household where alcohol abuse is common can raise a person’s risk of acquiring AUD. One’s attitudes regarding alcohol can be influenced by familial variables such as parental drinking habits, family dynamics, and “normalization” of alcohol usage.

Peer Influence and Accessibility

  • Peer Pressure: Young adults and adolescents are especially susceptible to peer pressure when it comes to alcohol use. Individuals may indulge in unsafe drinking habits and run a higher risk of developing an addiction if their social groups encourage heavy drinking.
  • Easy Access to Alcohol: The pricing and accessibility of alcohol can have a big impact on how much people drink. People who live in locations where alcohol is easily accessible or who have easy access to it may be more likely to engage in excessive drinking.

Stress and Trauma

  • Psychological Factors: People may use alcohol as a coping method in response to environmental stressors such as interpersonal issues, work-related stress, and academic pressure. Alcohol can momentarily relieve emotional distress, which might help AUD develop.
  • Traumatic Experiences: Trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse, increases the likelihood of developing AUD in those who have experienced it. Self-medication with alcohol can be done to numb emotional anguish.
  • Financial Stress: Addiction to alcohol can be exacerbated by financial stress and hardship. People who are struggling financially could use alcohol as a temporary distraction from their issues.

Cultural and Social Factors

  • Cultural Norms: An individual’s drinking habits might be influenced by cultural attitudes and expectations toward alcohol consumption. Heavy drinking might be more socially acceptable in some cultures, which would increase the prevalence of AUD.
  • Media Influence: Alcohol usage can be glamorized through media and advertising representations, which can have an impact on social beliefs and behavior.
  • Lack of Education: Ineffective preventive measures and a lack of knowledge about the dangers of excessive alcohol use can both contribute to AUD. To reduce alcohol abuse, education, and awareness initiatives are crucial.

It is important to understand these non-genetic and environmental factors of AUD when creating effective alcohol addiction prevention plans and interventions. These factors emphasize the necessity for all-encompassing strategies that take into account a person’s genetic susceptibility as well as the environmental elements that can initiate and sustain problematic drinking behaviors.

What are the Symptoms of AUD?

Alcohol use disorder symptoms can range in severity but frequently include an increased tolerance for alcohol, withdrawal symptoms from alcohol, unsuccessful attempts to reduce or control alcohol use, neglecting important responsibilities because of drinking, and continued alcohol use despite negative effects on relationships and health. The individual’s urge for alcohol may gradually take over more and more of their daily activities.

Individuals with AUD often find it challenging to limit the amount or duration of their alcohol consumption, frequently drinking more or for longer periods than intended. AUD also creates a strong desire or urge to drink alcohol, leading individuals to prioritize alcohol over other activities and responsibilities. Over time, individuals may develop a tolerance to alcohol, meaning they need to consume more to achieve the desired effects or experience the same level of intoxication.

When not drinking or attempting to cut down, individuals with AUD may experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, nausea, sweating, shakiness, and even seizures. These symptoms often drive individuals to continue drinking. People with AUD may also neglect important work, school, or family obligations due to their alcohol use, jeopardizing relationships and their overall well-being.

Is Alcohol Addiction Considered a Mental Disorder?

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), which is a widely accepted classification system used by mental health professionals, alcohol addiction is diagnosed as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). AUD is a recognized mental health condition characterized by a problematic pattern of alcohol use leading to significant distress or impairment in various areas of an individual’s life.

AUD encompasses a range of symptoms and severity levels, from mild to severe, based on the number of diagnostic criteria met. Alcohol addiction is considered a mental disorder for several reasons including its psychological components such as cravings, preoccupation with alcohol, and the use of alcohol to cope with emotional distress. These elements are characteristic of many mental health disorders. Impaired Functioning is also common in people with AUD. They often experience impairment in various aspects of their lives, including work, relationships, and social activities, which aligns with the definition of a mental disorder.

AUD may also cause neurobiological changes. Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to significant changes in the brain’s structure and function, affecting decision-making, impulse control, and emotional regulation—further supporting its classification as a mental disorder. This condition also frequently co-occurs with other mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, highlighting its interconnectedness with mental health. Moreover, AUD is typically diagnosed and treated by mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and addiction counselors, further solidifying its status as a mental disorder.

The Road to Recovery: Treatment Options for Alcohol Addiction

AUD, like many mental disorders, is a treatable condition. Various therapeutic approaches, including psychotherapy, medication, and support groups, are available to help individuals manage their alcohol addiction and work toward recovery. Treatment options include controlled detoxification, rehabilitation programs that focus on therapy, and counseling to address the psychological aspects of addiction. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) provide ongoing assistance and a sense of community for individuals in recovery.

Detoxification (Detox)

  • The initial stage of treating AUD is detoxification, which entails properly controlling withdrawal symptoms as the body gets rid of alcohol. To assure the person’s safety and comfort, this procedure is frequently carried out under medical supervision.


  • Acamprosate: It helps balance brain chemicals affected by long-term alcohol use and can reduce cravings.
  • Disulfiram: This medication creates unpleasant reactions (e.g., nausea and vomiting) when alcohol is consumed, acting as a deterrent.
  • Naltrexone: Naltrexone can reduce the rewarding effects of alcohol, making it less appealing.
  • Nalmefene: Similar to naltrexone, it can reduce alcohol cravings and consumption.

Behavioral Therapies

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Helps individuals identify and change unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors related to alcohol use.
  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): A goal-oriented approach focused on enhancing an individual’s motivation to change their drinking behavior.
  • Contingency Management: Rewards individuals for maintaining sobriety and participating in treatment.


  • Individual Counseling: One-on-one counseling provides a confidential and supportive environment for individuals to explore the underlying causes of their addiction and develop strategies for recovery.
  • Group Therapy: Group therapy sessions allow individuals to share their experiences, receive support, and learn from others facing similar challenges. It fosters a sense of community and understanding.
  • Family Therapy: Family therapy addresses the impact of AUD on family dynamics and relationships. It involves counseling for family members to improve communication, set boundaries, and support the recovery process.
  • Self-Help and Support Groups: Joining support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or SMART Recovery can provide ongoing peer support and a sense of belonging during recovery.

Holistic Approaches

  • Complementary therapies such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness techniques can help individuals manage stress and promote overall well-being.

Treatment Programs

  • Inpatient or Residential Treatment Program: For severe cases of AUD, inpatient or residential treatment programs provide a highly structured and immersive environment where individuals receive intensive therapy and support.
  • Outpatient Treatment: Outpatient programs offer flexibility for those with milder forms of AUD, allowing individuals to attend therapy sessions while maintaining their daily routines.

Achieving and maintaining sobriety is a challenging but rewarding process. Recovery from alcohol addiction often involves ongoing therapy, lifestyle changes, and building a strong support network. Relapses may occur, but they should be seen as setbacks rather than failures, as many people experience multiple attempts before achieving lasting sobriety.

LifeDNA’s Report on Alcohol Consumption

Numerous diseases have alcohol use as a risk factor. More than 200 diseases and health issues include it as a component cause. The danger linked with drinking alcohol is, however, largely adjustable through leading a healthy lifestyle because alcohol follows a dose-response connection for the risk of mortality or sickness. 

You can learn more about your risk of Alcohol Dependence and risky Alcohol Consumption tendencies by understanding its genetic components. LifeDNA’s Wellness Report gives insight into several traits that can help you understand how and why you can develop certain substance dependence such as excessive alcohol consumption. Get yours here.


  • Alcohol addiction, commonly known as alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is the obsessive and uncontrollable consumption of alcohol despite its negative effects.
  • Alcohol addiction can develop for a variety of reasons, including genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. A hereditary predisposition to developing alcohol consumption disorder (AUD) may exist in some individuals.
  • Alcoholism can impair the liver, heart, and brain, which can lead to a variety of problems with one’s physical and mental health, such as liver cirrhosis, cardiovascular disease, and dementia.
  • Alcoholism has harmful effects on both the person and society as a whole. These effects include issues such as family breakdown, domestic violence, and child maltreatment.
  • Recovery from alcohol addiction often involves ongoing therapy, lifestyle changes, and building a strong support network. Relapses may occur but these don’t need to mean failure of recovery.



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*Understanding your genetics can offer valuable insights into your well-being, but it is not deterministic. Your traits can be influenced by the complex interplay involving nature, lifestyle, family history, and others.

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