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Alcohol Use Disorder and Genetics: The Role of Family History

Alcohol Use Disorder and Genetics: The Role of Family History

Genetics account for half of one's risk for developing alcohol use disorder, but your environment also plays a critical role.

If you have a parent or other family member who struggles with alcohol use disorder (AUD), you might wonder whether it is safe for you to drink. You may worry over whether AUD runs in your family and think you are destined to become addicted if you indulge. Although genetics play a crucial role in your risk for alcohol use disorder, it is often not enough to lead to AUD on its own. Other factors must also be present for alcohol consumption to lead to addiction. 

If you find it difficult to moderate your alcohol consumption and have a family history of AUD, it can take more than willpower to help you cut back on drinking. Confidant Health's online medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use can help you manage cravings and withdrawal discomfort, so you can achieve your goals of reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption. Reach out to our team today to find out more about how medication-assisted treatment works to curb alcohol misuse and help you manage AUD.

What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic condition in which a person cannot moderate their alcohol consumption regardless of its adverse impacts on their life. If you have AUD, you may drink heavily, binge drink, or drink more than intended because your brain has become dependent on alcohol to function. 

What Causes Alcohol Use Disorder?

There are several causes for alcohol use disorder, although it often takes more than one to culminate in AUD. Some common causes of alcohol use disorder include:

  • Alcohol misuse
  • Environment
  • Genetics
  • Mental health conditions
  • Trauma

If you have one or more of the above factors, you may be predisposed to AUD, although this does not mean you cannot drink in moderation. It is a warning sign that you may want to be more careful about limiting your alcohol consumption or avoiding it altogether.

Is Alcohol Use Disorder Genetic?

Genetics affect how likely you are to develop an alcohol use disorder, accounting for half the risk for AUD. If you have a family history of alcohol use disorder, you are more susceptible to this chronic disease. However, this doesn't mean you will develop AUD if you drink alcohol. Instead, it can indicate that you should consider abstaining or being vigilant about moderate alcohol consumption. 

Alcohol Use Disorder, Genetics, and Environment

Genetics plays a pertinent role in a person's risk of developing alcohol use disorder, although environmental and social factors are also important. A study on alcohol misuse among people who were adopted found that those with biological parents with alcohol use disorder were more likely to engage in alcohol misuse, even when raised by adoptive parents who did not struggle with AUD. 

Even if you have a genetic variant that increases the likelihood of alcohol dependence, that doesn't mean you cannot enjoy alcohol in moderation. Studies showed that genetic variants combined with childhood challenges like abuse or loss of a parent or strong predictors of AUD risk. It takes more than one risk factor to lead to an alcohol use disorder. Your environment also plays a key role. Growing up in a household where alcohol is consumed regularly may make you more likely to drink. Also, having friends or a partner who consumes alcohol can influence your drinking behavior. 

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How Genetics Influence the Likelihood of Alcohol Use Disorder

Specific genes have been found to impact a person's risk for alcohol use disorder, including:


These two genes are the most significant indicators of a person's risk for alcohol use disorder. They are involved with the body's ability to metabolize alcohol. Variants in these genes can lead to adverse effects when drinking alcohol, such as flushing, nausea, and tachycardia. This may naturally deter people from misusing alcohol or consuming it at all. However, some people continue to consume alcohol despite these effects and can still be at risk of AUD.


GABRA2 is affiliated with impulsiveness, which can increase the likelihood of binge drinking or heavy drinking. 


CHRM2 has more of an impact on the severity of alcohol dependence instead of the development of AUD.


KCNJ6 plays a part in the stress response and adolescent drinking, influencing whether young people turn to alcohol to manage life stressors.


AUTS2 is correlated with alcohol sensitivity and how much a person drinks.

Variants in these genes increase the risk of AUD, especially when combined with other risk factors, such as your environment and mental health.

Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment and Prevention

If you have a mild alcohol use disorder, you may be able to reduce your alcohol consumption on your own. However, anyone with moderate to severe alcohol use disorder should seek professional treatment to protect their safety as they withdraw from alcohol. 

Treatment for AUD is more accessible than ever with options for in-person and virtual programs. The main components of AUD treatment are: 


Regardless of how committed you are to getting alcohol misuse under control, there will be psychological components that make it more difficult. A trained therapist can help you explore the reasons behind alcohol misuse and develop a relapse prevention plan. They can also help you work through common contributors to AUD such as relationship issues, low self-esteem, mental health disorders, grief, and trauma.


Therapy can help you cope with stress and other life challenges that may trigger you to self-medicate with alcohol, but changes in the brain caused by AUD must also be addressed. Medications help you overcome alcohol use disorder by reducing cravings, minimizing withdrawal symptoms, and blocking the pleasurable effects of drinking. Some medications can even produce unpleasant side effects if you consume alcohol to deter you from drinking.


Trying to overcome alcohol use disorder by yourself is a daunting task. You will need the support of others to help keep you on track, especially when you're feeling low and experiencing powerful urges to drink. Supportive friends and family members can help you stay strong and remind you of why you want to quit drinking.

You can also find support through groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or peer recovery groups. These support groups can help you realize that you're not alone and there are others who understand what you're going through. You can learn from their experiences and share your challenges and successes.

Professional support is also vital for your success. There are plenty of treatment options to address the needs of anyone trying to overcome AUD. Whether you need residential, partial hospitalization, outpatient, or virtual treatment, there is a program that can help.


Prevention of alcohol use disorder requires awareness of one's risk for this chronic disease:

  • Consider whether you have a family history of AUD and if your loved ones engage in binge drinking or heavy drinking. Practice moderate drinking or find activities that do not revolve around alcohol.
  • If you experienced childhood trauma or a mental health condition, you should seek professional help to address these and help lower your risk of self-medication and alcohol misuse.
  • If you are going through a stressful time or experiencing chronic stress, learn coping skills and stress management techniques to manage life's problems without turning to alcohol.
  • If you suspect you are becoming dependent on alcohol, reach out for treatment right away. It is never too early to inquire about pre-addiction treatment.
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Alcohol Use Disorder FAQs

Should I drink if my family has a history of alcohol use disorder?

You can drink alcohol if your family has a history of alcohol use disorder, but you should be especially cautious about moderating your consumption. If you have other risk factors for AUD, it is best to address these to reduce your chances of becoming dependent on alcohol.

Can anyone develop an alcohol use disorder?

Even if you have no family history of alcohol use disorder or alcohol misuse, you can still develop AUD. There are other factors that lead to this chronic disease, so if certain psychological, social, or behavioral factors are present, you can struggle with alcohol use disorder.

Can alcohol use disorder skip a generation?

Alcohol use disorder can skip a generation as many variables determine whether a person will struggle with this condition. You can develop AUD even if your parents don't drink, and if your parents have AUD, that does not mean you will as well.

Can a person be born with an alcohol use disorder?

Even if a person's genetics put them at a higher risk of alcohol use disorder, they will not be born with this chronic condition. It takes other factors to develop AUD, including heavy drinking or binge drinking, so a person cannot be born with this chronic condition.

What are other risk factors for alcohol use disorder?

Social, environmental, psychological, and behavioral factors can also contribute to the development of alcohol use disorder. Your home environment, social circle, stress levels, mental health, and drinking behaviors can all influence your risk of AUD along with genetic predisposition.

Get the Support You Need to Manage AUD with Confidant Health

Once your brain becomes dependent on alcohol, quitting drinking can feel impossible. With Confidant Health's medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use, you can start to release the grip of alcohol use disorder on your life. To experience how medication-assisted treatment can reduce the urge to drink so you can achieve your recovery goals, download our app today and schedule an online assessment.

This article has been medically reviewed by
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Nurse Practitioner

Erin is a Nurse Practitioner with 8 years of experience in midwifery and women's health. She has spent the past 5 years specializing in the treatment of opioid and alcohol use disorders.

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