A relationship with drinking you would prefer not to have but you can’t seem to break it off? It could be in your genes.
There really could be chemistry between you and that cool liquid creature sat so quietly, so demurely composed behind clear glass, just waiting for your lips to meet…
Chemical reactions and the factors that influence them
The idea that there could be a gene to a blame for problem behaviour is not new, of course – they’re still looking for the ‘criminal’ gene… but researchers have attached another concept to the study of alcohol addiction – epigenetics.
Basically, epigenetics is the study of chemical reactions and the factors that influence them. Or to be more precise, the study of changes caused by modification in the way the gene behaves rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.
Major influence on future attitudes
It also refers to the way that alcoholism can run in families, which has been known about since the mid-1970s. According to independent charity, DrinkAware, if the parents are dependent on alcohol, their children are four times more likely to develop dependence too.
The Counselling Directory estimate that over a third of alcoholics had relatives who were also alcoholics. It’s also suggested that a family’s attitudes to alcohol and the environment a child grows up in has a major influence on future attitudes and behaviour with alcohol.
More complex issue
Alcoholism is now seen as a more complex disease, often influenced by many different factors triggered by a reaction to traumatic life events, such as bereavement, marriage break up or losing a job. Episodes of heavy drinking can soon lead to becoming dependent on alcohol.
So finding that elusive genetic link with alcohol addiction is another thing entirely. Scientists have discovered a number ‘genetic’ risk factors while researching alcoholic ‘traits’ in identical and non-identical twins, including the age when people begin to drink heavily and how much they will consume.
Many different genes interacting
However, it’s important to understand that genes are only a part of the story. Researchers have also been clear in pointing out that there are likely to be many different genes interacting with each other, as well as environmental factors, rather than simply one gene responsible for an individual becoming addicted to alcohol.
Nevertheless, research has revealed how genes can affect the recovery from alcoholism. It has been found that alcoholic patients who possess variations in a specific gene will respond positively to treatment with one drug, while those without the specific gene show a negative response.
As a consequence, the approach to treating alcoholic dependence and rehabilitation by both the patient and counsellor is likely to evolve as research develops. Rather than self-blame, outwardly accuse, go into denial or simply deny all responsibility, the answer may be found in your genes, in your childhood, and persisting unresolved through adult life.