Growing up with a parent who suffers from an alcohol use disorder can reverse family roles so that a child feels more like the responsible person in the relationship. Adult children of alcoholics have grown up with a very different childhood and adolescence than those who do not have a parent who abuses alcohol.
In addition to personality and emotional changes, adult children of alcoholics are at greater risk of developing alcoholism themselves, as well as drug abuse. They are also more likely to marry an alcoholic than someone who doesn’t have a family history of abuse.
How Do Genetics Influence Addiction?
Researchers are studying how genetics may influence addiction. They start by identifying families who have a history of alcohol addiction. The researchers then examine the DNA of each family member to identify sections of DNA that are similar among family members. They also perform studies on animals to further test for addiction responses.
Some of the genes researchers have found that may put a person at a higher risk of developing an addiction to alcohol include:
- People with an A1 allele of the dopamine receptor gene called DRD2 appears more frequently in people who are addicted to alcohol.
- Mice who do not have a serotonin receptor called HTR1B show more interest in alcohol and cocaine cocaine than those who do.
- Mice with low levels of a protein called neuropeptide Y will drink more alcohol than those who have high levels will.
Doctors have also identified a gene that makes a person less likely to use alcohol, known as the ADLH2 gene.
Hope for Adult Children of Alcoholics
Knowing that genetics can make a person more prone to alcoholism can provide an explanation for why some people drink alcohol or do drugs without being addicted while others can’t. Susceptibility doesn’t mean inevitability, however.
Being a child of an alcoholic does not have to doom a person to a life of alcoholism. However, an adult child of an alcoholic is also more likely to have behavioral differences that can further put them at risk for alcohol addiction. This includes a tendency to isolate themselves from others and to feel ashamed of themselves as well as their family members. They may be accustomed to engaging in high-risk behaviors to get attention. They also usually have very rigid mental defenses and are less likely to trust or confide in others.
While it may not be in their nature to ask for help, adult children of alcoholics should never feel embarrassed or ashamed to reach out to mental health professionals, addiction treatment specialists or other support networks. They can participate in organizations like Adult Children of Alcoholics, a nationwide organization that provides support and solutions for those with a family history of alcoholism.
Armed with the knowledge that they are more genetically susceptible to addiction, adult children of alcoholics can work to develop healthy coping behaviors that don’t involve alcohol or drugs. They can build healthy relationships with others and live healthy, happy lives.