Is there an alcoholic gene
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SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
Also visit the online treatment locator.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service), or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.
Also visit the online treatment locator, or send your zip code via text message: 435748 (HELP4U) to find help near you. Read more about the HELP4U text messaging service.
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English and Spanish are available if you select the option to speak with a national representative. Currently, the 435748 (HELP4U) text messaging service is only available in English.
In 2020, the Helpline received 833,598 calls. This is a 27 percent increase from 2019, when the Helpline received a total of 656,953 calls for the year.
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Last Updated: 08/30/2022
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Causes and Symptoms of Alcoholism - MyGenetics Blog
The disease of alcoholism - genetics or the harmful influence of society? Why, in the same environment (country, city, people), some people catastrophically drink too much and lose everything, while being interesting and talented, while others do not? Why can one person drink 20-30 grams of cognac and, having enjoyed the gourmet's pleasure, stop, while another person takes one sip of alcohol and can no longer stop drinking?
Maybe we are shaped by our close environment, or maybe a certain gene of alcoholism is inherited and pushes a person to step on a crooked path? Let's try to analyze the issue in more detail in this article.
Alcoholism is a disease. Until the end of the 20th century, scientists believed that it arises solely due to external living conditions, completely depends on society and the position of a person in it. Such conclusions were made on the basis of the fact that drunkenness was more common among the lower classes than among the richer and higher-ranking classes.
With the development of genetics, scientists have identified genes that can claim to be the gene for drunkenness, and the question of the causes of addiction has become more complicated, it has become less obvious.
Is alcoholism genetically transmitted? To date, it is reliably known that alcohol dependence itself is not inherited, but a predisposition to it is transmitted. This was proven by a study of adopted children who, even away from the marginal environment of their drinking parents, showed greater cravings and addictions to alcohol than children without such a "family history".
The details and extent of heredity have yet to be studied, but already now we can say that the greatest influence of alcohol dependence of parents has on the next three generations, and the more alcoholics in the family, the higher the risks of inheriting this predisposition.
How to protect yourself from alcoholism
Before setting the goal of “protecting yourself or loved ones from alcoholism”, you need to understand how this addiction is formed. In itself, alcoholism is not the root cause of addiction to alcohol - it is hard to imagine that even the most inveterate alcoholic dreamed of becoming an alcoholic from childhood.
A not too critical, and sometimes even a completely positive attitude towards the use of alcohol in the close environment of the child, in the information sphere, already forms in his mind an idea of a certain “safety” of alcoholic products.
Primary associations in the yet unformed idea of the structure of the world are simple and not detailed: drunk people in large companies eat, joke, have fun: it means that drinking is fun and normal. They make fun of drunk people, tell jokes about drunkenness, dreamily speak out about the desire to repeat the booze, etc. - the child does not distinguish between irony or sarcasm, he seeks to play, have fun, attract the attention of adults, and drinking seems to him a good solution.
Conventionally, the second stage in the formation of a predisposition to alcohol dependence is the period of puberty, which not only triggers the sexual activity of the body, but also generally gives a jump in the development of the brain and independence of the child. He more and more often begins to make decisions on his own and perform actions without prior agreement with adults. The higher the consumption of alcohol-containing products in a society, the more similar children with the same associations come together. And if they are in a company and want to have fun, then sooner or later they will copy the behavior of adults and get drunk for the first time.
But the process of formation of alcoholism is long and multifaceted. The first use of alcohol does not guarantee that a person will get drunk. This is also the first experience of the reaction of the inner circle. The classic rejection by the parents of a drunk child, the punishment of him in the event that the parents themselves often or rarely drink, is perceived not as an indisputable prohibition, but as a temporary restriction. Like, if you become an adult, then drink, children are not allowed, etc. That is, in the mind of the child, it is not an attitude to the danger of drinking alcohol that is formed, but an attitude to the fact that he will still grow up, and then he will definitely drink as much as he wants.
And now the child grows up, reaches the age of majority (which does not guarantee his real self-development and awareness) and “breaks out” from the “parental nest”. He, of course, does not immediately run to sleep and get drunk, but he is faced with many modern problems in the economy and society, for which, by and large, no one has prepared him.
"Adult life" is replete with stressful situations, competition, neglect of other people's work, meanness, deceit and other negative social elements. The more aggressive the environment, the more valuable are the various ways to escape from everyday life, take a break from stress and have fun - a child does not magically disappear from a person when he reaches adulthood.
And now we come to the most important thing - to the fork in which most people face similar problems: mindless adherence to fashion and generally accepted standards of entertainment, when most young people imagine entertainment as drinking on the street, at home or in a club.
Some can have fun on the dance floor for more than one year, after which they somehow get a higher education and will immediately be sent by wealthy parents to a serious position, where they will dramatically change their lifestyle. And someone will get into an unsuccessful relationship, accidentally have children, get married, work only for the sake of money in a hated job and slowly become an inveterate drunkard. These are, of course, approximate examples based on stereotypes, but they convey the general essence of the processes.
As a result, regardless of the upbringing and norms that prevail in society, people who find it difficult to fulfill themselves are most at risk of becoming an alcoholic. A woman who cannot fulfill her dreams of a cloudless family life, a man who has not decided what he wants from his life or who has repeatedly failed on his life path is the main risk group.
Therefore, the most effective ways not to become addicted to any bad habits are, first of all, an active lifestyle, breadth of views and interests, many life goals, stress resistance and optimism. If you are missing any of the above, do not rush and look for simple solutions in alcohol or drugs.
What happens when alcohol enters the body
Is there a difference in the effects of alcohol on different people? After drinking alcohol in the body, all people experience the same processes:
- When alcohol enters the bloodstream, it destroys the thin fatty membrane of red blood cells, causing them to stick together in clusters. Such clusters cannot pass through the thinnest capillaries of the circulatory system and clog them. Most of all, brain cells suffer from blockage of capillaries - those of them, the passage to which turned out to be clogged, die off, which causes problems with coordination of movements and a headache with a hangover.
- Ethanol decomposes to acetaldehyde, an extremely toxic substance that destroys the cells of all tissues and organs.
- Acetaldehyde is converted into acetate, that is, into acetic acid, and it already completes the destructive effect of alcohol on the entire body.
- The remaining toxins and dead cells are excreted naturally by the kidneys.
How alcohol affects the body
Alcohol and its decay products destroy the cells of organs and tissues and sometimes cause irreparable harm to health. First of all, the liver, kidneys, stomach, pancreas, the entire cardiovascular system and the brain suffer from alcohol. The more alcohol is consumed, the worse memory, fantasy, and learning abilities become.
Alcohol, like any other addiction, is divided into two main groups: mental and physical. And if it is relatively easy to cope with mental addiction, then with its physical manifestation, harmful substances are built into the body's metabolism, which makes the treatment of such an addiction a difficult and lengthy task.
Manifestation of the “alcoholic gene”
The gene responsible for alcoholism is more a hypothesis than a confirmed scientific theory. Many scientists of the world are puzzled by its search. But while more and more researchers are inclined to think that a single gene that determines whether a person gets drunk or not does not exist. But about 1200 genes have already been found, the violation of the functions of which can significantly increase the likelihood of alcohol dependence. So, DNA testing can already reveal a predisposition to addiction to alcohol, but it is not yet possible to overcome this addiction genetically. You can assess the risk of developing alcohol dependence and study the individual reactions of the body to alcohol using the MyDetox DNA test.
Is alcoholism hereditary
A hereditary predisposition, a genetic tendency to addiction, is no guarantee that a person who possesses it will necessarily become an alcoholic. As, however, its absence does not protect against such an outcome. In the world, only Asians have been seen to have a genetic anomaly that makes them physically incapable of developing alcoholism. For all other people, the cause of harmful addiction is a whole complex of external and internal factors.
Myths and facts about alcoholism and heredity
Throughout the history of drinking alcohol, various myths associated with it have spread among the people:
- Drinking can keep you warm. In fact, the feeling of warmth is an illusion that occurs due to the narrowing of the walls of blood vessels under the influence of alcohol. The surface area of the vessels and their heat transfer are slightly reduced, and the splitting of alcohol gives a lot of free energy. A false sensation of warmth often causes death and frostbite.
- You can drink culturally. Is alcoholism present in the Slavic DNA? Before the reforms of Peter I, who opened the first taverns in Moscow, did they not drink at all in Rus'? and drunkenness was despised by the people. That is, the use of alcohol was not characteristic of our culture for a long time. This means that our DNA most often does not give us effective means of dealing with alcohol.
- You can drink in moderation. Even infrequent use of alcohol in small quantities can develop into addiction over the years. By the way, it gives children the same pernicious example as frequent drinking.
- Intoxication improves mood. Alcoholic drinks belong to the class of depressant substances and promote short-term amusement only because people themselves are having fun when they drink it. The real effect of alcohol is completely opposite, and it only exacerbates depressive moods.
Expert: Nature has not laid any "alcoholism genes" in people. And it is from here that the roots of Russian drunkenness grow. This is true?
Svetlana Borinskaya: These are all myths. Nature has not laid in us any "alcoholism genes". But there is a gene that protects a person from alcohol. I will tell about it below. The following should be emphasized: although there is no special "alcoholism gene", there are genes that increase the propensity to consume alcohol. But this is not a sentence for their owners. Each of these genes "works" with little effect. There are already several dozen of them, but none is decisive.
But the more there are, the higher the risk that a person will be drawn to a bottle?
Svetlana Borinskaya: Correct. But I repeat, this is not a sentence, because for these genes there is no "critical mass" that could trigger the mechanism for the development of alcoholism. Whether the risks derived from nature will be realized depends entirely on the person himself. His upbringing in childhood is of great importance. After all, genes respond differently to environmental influences. Under adverse conditions, gene response can increase the risk of alcoholism. If the child grows up in normal conditions, then even a not entirely successful set of genes may remain in "silence".
So, there is no gene for alcoholism, and all the talk about the genetic propensity of Russians to drink is a myth. But you said that nature gave people a gene that protects against drunkenness. Maybe in this she cheated Russia?
Svetlana Borinskaya: Two such genes are known. One controls the enzyme that converts alcohol into the compound acetaldehyde. This is a strong toxin that causes a severe hangover condition - headache, nausea, trembling. This is a poisoning of the body. Another gene controls an enzyme that neutralizes this toxin. Protection against alcoholism depends on how these genes work. First about the first. If a person has a variant of this gene that very quickly turns alcohol into a toxin, then this poison accumulates in large quantities in the body. As a result, the person feels very bad. The owners of this gene are not able to drink a lot, and therefore rarely become alcoholics.
It is especially common in a number of Asian countries, in particular China and Japan, where the number of its owners is about 70 percent. As for the Russians, every tenth of them has such a gene. About the same as in Europe. We are no different from many other nations. Nature has not cheated us.
And what about the second protective gene, which is responsible for the destruction of the poison?
Svetlana Borinskaya: It does not work at all for half of the Chinese and Japanese. The toxin formed from alcohol is not destroyed or it happens extremely slowly. Therefore, these people are able to drink very little. As for the Russians, less than one percent of the population has such protection. In Europe, this figure is even less, a fraction of a percent.
In a word, should our girls marry those who fall into the top 10 percent of the owners of the "good" gene, which quickly decomposes alcohol?
Svetlana Borinskaya: It's not that simple. The fact is that both alcoholics and teetotalers have such genes. How to explain it? In the city where we conducted the study, 14 percent of men drink half of the alcohol. And some of them also have protective genes, but they do not give an absolute guarantee. Apparently, these people, for one reason or another, cannot do without alcohol at all. Despite the fact that they are experiencing its most severe consequences. The vast majority are poorly educated people who use surrogates, which are very harmful to health.
But we got a curious and unexpected result while studying teetotalers. Among them, too, there are few who have a protective gene. Basically, these are, apparently, those about whom they say that they have already drunk their own.