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Alcohol and Health

Is Alcohol Misuse Genetic?

June 22, 2023
9 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 22, 2023
9 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 22, 2023
9 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 22, 2023
9 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 22, 2023
9 min read

Imagine walking through a dense forest on a treasure hunt, knowing that the path to success is littered with dangerous pitfalls. This adventure parallels the journey of navigating our genes, a complex map that outlines our susceptibilities and strengths.

One possible pitfall is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), a condition in which drinking becomes a compulsive, detrimental habit — a hidden trap in our genetic forest.

But is the path to AUD pre-determined by our genes, or can we take an alternate route? If you’ve ever turned to Google wondering whether you have the drinking problem that runs in your family, this might be the article for you.

AUD — Navigating the Genetic Forest

Science has advanced significantly over the years, providing us with a deeper understanding of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and its genetic underpinnings.

There is no single “alcoholic gene” that accounts for AUD. In fact, studies show that genetics account for about half the risk for AUD, meaning our genes influence our likelihood of developing AUD.

Among the 11 pairs of genes associated with an increased risk of developing AUD, here are some of the most common:

  • GABRB1: This gene influences the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a substance that alcohol impacts, accounting for some of its feel-good effects. Mutations to this gene may lower GABA production when someone is sober. This low GABA production could lead to problematic drinking, as people look to self-medicate to supplement their naturally low GABA levels.
  • ADH1B: Variants on this gene make it so that acetaldehyde is not metabolized into acetate well, and it causes a flushed, red reaction. It’s most prevalent in people of East Asian descent (70%) and least common in those with European ancestry (5%).
  • Beta-Klotho: This gene helps account for why some of us enjoy the experience of drinking more than others. One mutation of this gene makes it easy to control the urge to drink; another makes drinking harder to resist.
  • Some genetic factors can make it harder for some people to metabolize alcohol — leading to unpleasant effects like flushing, nausea, or rapid heart rate. This can act as a natural deterrent against heavy drinking.

While genetic tests are available, it’s still a developing science — and it cannot guarantee the "catching" or preventing of AUD. Any concerns we have about our genetic risks should be discussed with our healthcare provider.

The Other Half of the Equation

Family history and our childhood environment play a big role, too. This includes whether the following stressors were a part of our upbringing:

  • Whether or not a parent or guardian in our home struggled with AUD or substance abuse when we were children
  • If others in our childhood home had mental illness(es)
  • If major financial setbacks or stressors were part of our family’s experience
  • Whether there were other similar stressors in our childhood

It's important to remember that our genetic makeup is not our destiny — it’s only part of the story. Even if our family history included major stressors, such as those listed above, it doesn’t guarantee we’ll develop AUD. Current stressors, life circumstances, and our everyday choices also play a role.

Spotting the Pitfalls

Our genes don’t dictate our journey. Genes play a part, but so do environmental factors — such as our upbringing, job, stressors, social influences, and coping strategies, to name a few.

Knowing the signs of AUD helps us avoid the hidden pitfalls. They range from less severe symptoms (like repeatedly drinking more than we intend) to severe symptoms (such as feeling unable to cut back on drinking, neglecting personal and professional responsibilities, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when we’re not under the influence).

Much like spotting a trap in the forest, recognizing these signs is the first step towards choosing a safer path. By acknowledging these symptoms, we can start to navigate around the dangers and make decisions that lead us to healthier destinations.

Now that we understand our path isn't solely dictated by our genes and we can identify the signs of AUD, let's talk about how to steer clear of this pitfall.

  1. Self-awareness. Understand your drinking patterns and identify the triggers that urge you to drink. Regularly reassess your drinking habits and make necessary adjustments to stay on track.
  2. Get curious. Establish clear boundaries and set goals for how much you drink each week. Investigate the sober curious movement and see if it might be right for you.
  3. Find other fun. Find different ways to cope with stress, such as exercise, meditation, or pursuing a hobby.
  4. Reach out for support. Lean on loved ones or support groups for emotional backup as you navigate this journey. Check out Reframe to plug right into a community of people like you. If drinking becomes a struggle, don't hesitate to get professional help.
  5. Practice mindful drinking. Focus on the quality rather than the quantity of your drink, savoring each sip and noticing its effects.

Plotting a Safer Path

Our genes may point us towards a risky path, but it's within our power to choose a safer route.

Alcohol Use Disorder, like a hidden trap, is a real and significant risk — but with knowledge, self-awareness, support, and actionable steps, we can navigate around it.

Remember, the goal isn't to fear the forest but to understand its dangers and equip ourselves with the right tools to navigate through it.

Embrace the journey, knowing that every step we take towards reducing our drinking is a step towards a healthier, happier life.

Take Control and Thrive With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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