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Does Alcoholism Run in Families?

Alcoholism sadly affects the lives of millions of people every day across the United States. Unfortunately, people who fall prey to alcohol abuse often end up losing everything, including their families, their possessions, and even their self-respect.

If a parent, sibling, child, or other family members struggle with alcoholism, you may ask whether it runs in families. In this blog, we explore that very question.

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder, also known as alcoholism, is defined as an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.” Alcoholism knows no boundaries, and it can affect people regardless of their age, race, sexual identity, or socioeconomic status.

As a mental illness, alcohol use disorder can arise without warning. Often, it is the result of alcohol abuse or binge drinking. Those living with an alcohol use disorder can find it hard to stop drinking without professional support, especially if they experience withdrawal symptoms.

When this happens, it can be even more challenging to give up drinking despite warning signs that their relationship with alcohol is impairing their life.

Does Alcohol Abuse Run in Families?

You may have noticed that people with alcohol addiction often have other family members who also have an alcohol addiction. For this reason, you may worry that you are at a higher risk of developing an alcohol addiction.

While there certainly is a connection between people in your family drinking unhealthily and you developing unhealthy drinking habits, this is not to say that you will struggle with alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

But what is the manner that this happens? Actually, there are a few ways.

Genetic Predispositions

Research shows that alcohol abuse does have genetic factors, with multiple genes playing a role in the development of alcoholism. This means that if your parents have the gene for alcohol abuse, you may too. This does not mean you will develop alcohol abuse problems, but it does increase the risk. For this reason, you should be more careful when drinking alcohol.

The gene for alcoholism can skip generations, so if one of your grandparents struggles with an alcohol use disorder, for example, you should be mindful of your relationship with alcohol.

Learned Behaviors – Environmental Factors

Children pick up more than we give them credit for. If a child notices that their parents abuse alcohol when they are sad or angry, they may begin to believe that this behavior is somewhat normal.

This learned behavior can increase rates of underage drinking and can also increase a person’s risk of developing alcoholism.


Another factor in developing alcoholism, or any substance use disorder for that matter, is trauma. Trauma arises when something happens to or around us that we cannot process at the time.

When we cannot process trauma, it is locked into our bodies and minds, meaning that we have an increased risk of a substance use disorder, including alcoholism. Trauma also increases the risk of developing a mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or anxiety.

Trauma, like alcoholism, can be thought of as running in families. This happens as one person in a family becomes traumatized, then directly or indirectly traumatizes other family members. This cycle continues until someone does the necessary work to break the cycle.

Tips To Avoid Alcohol Use Disorder When It Runs in Your Family

If you are looking to reduce the risk of a child experiencing an alcohol use disorder, there are many things that you can do. For example, you could:

  • Share information and education about the dangers of abusing alcohol with children at an early age. This information should be developmentally appropriate.
  • Keep track of what your child is doing with their free time, and recommend activities that do not involve drinking.
  • Help to build your child’s confidence in healthy ways. Consider youth leadership programs and get them in touch with older role models.
  • Assist your child in developing their problem-solving, communication, and listening skills.

What Can I Do if a Family Member Has an Alcohol Problem?

If a family member is drinking alcohol on a daily basis and you believe they are not able to stop drinking, it may be time to approach them.

Although it’s common to hope that your family member will be willing to talk to you about their problem, it’s important to be aware that many people struggling with an alcohol use disorder will deny that anything is wrong. They may even become defensive.

Family Interventions

Should you find that your family member does not want to talk about their drinking problem and its negative consequences, it may be time to stage an intervention. Interventions are a meeting of people, including the person struggling with an addiction, designed to help them see that they have an alcohol issue.

The planning stage of an intervention is very important. The best time to stage an intervention is when the person in question is not overly intoxicated, as they may be unable to hear the message if they have drunk too much alcohol.

It’s also important to choose who attends the intervention wisely. Consider people who will be able to keep in the spirit of the intervention, which is one of caring and compassion. If there is anyone that you think may inflame the situation or has a tumultuous relationship with the person with an alcohol addiction, it is probably best to leave them out for the time being.

On the day of the intervention, you should calmly state why you are all there, let the person know that they are cared for and that you all believe that they should get help for their alcohol problem. Relay stories to them about times when you have been concerned, but remember that the purpose of this exercise is not to shame the person; it is to show that you care and that you are concerned for their welfare.

Make sure to speak with an addiction professional at an addiction treatment center before starting the intervention. Having a counselor or therapist at the intervention is also recommended.

If the intervention goes well, the person should leave for the treatment center directly after the intervention has taken place to prevent them from having time to change their minds.

Alcohol Use Disorder and Substance Abuse

Alcohol use disorders and substance abuse frequently go hand-in-hand. Often, those with an alcohol use disorder also develop a substance abuse problem.

When alcohol use disorder and substance abuse coexist, they can be an even more slippery slope than alcohol consumption alone, as substance abuse leads the person to act even more erratically.

The combination of both these disorders is even worse when you consider the dangers of mixing alcohol with other substances. Particularly dangerous interactions occur when alcohol is mixed with other downers. The impact that both disorders have on a person’s mental health can also lead to them experiencing a mental health disorder, making it harder to overcome an addiction.

If you suspect that a family member or loved one has a coexisting alcohol and drug abuse problem, it is best to discuss this with an addiction treatment center. Doing so will ensure that your family member gets the help they need for both disorders.

To Conclude

Although alcohol addictions do run in families, there are a number of different risk factors to alcoholism. It’s important to remember that even if a close family member develops an addiction, this does not necessarily mean that you will.

If a close family member or friend has a heavy drinking problem that they cannot stop, speak with our team at Empowered Recovery. We offer programs suitable for people with alcohol addiction problems, and our first priority is making sure that our clients achieve long-lasting sobriety.

If you would like more information on how we can help you or your loved one, please give us a call on 1-855-949-5518. Our team is on hand to support you.

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