Beating Your Genes: Recognizing Hereditary Alcoholism
As parents, many of us have concerns about passing on genes or traits to our children. We want them to be healthy and thrive, and not let our dumb genes get in the way! When you’re the child of an alcoholic or you have a family history of substance abuse, there’s always a fear that you may pass the disease on to your own children. However, addiction is much more complicated than movies and TV make it out to be and there are steps you can take to protect your children from alcoholism.
Is there such a thing as hereditary alcoholism?
Research tells us that children of alcoholics are four times more likely to develop alcoholism than the general population but that’s not because they are fated to due to a single “alcoholism gene.” Multiple genes may play a role in increasing the risk for developing alcoholism. There are genes that increase a person’s risk, as well as those that may decrease that genetic risk, either directly or indirectly. For example, some people of Asian descent carry a gene variant that alters their rate of alcohol metabolism in their bloodstream, causing them to have symptoms like flushing, nausea, and rapid heartbeat when they drink alcohol. When drinking alcohol makes you feel like that, you’re less likely to develop alcoholism. Even if your genes do predispose you to alcoholism, that doesn’t mean you’ll automatically become an alcoholic. The traits that genes encode in us can be expressed in different ways and we’re learning more every day about how those expressions affect our lives. So, yes, your genetics can put you and your children at a higher risk for alcoholism, but even a long family history of the disease can be beaten.
What other risk factors should I know about?
In addition to your genes, environmental factors can either increase or decrease your risk of becoming an alcoholic. Researchers believe an individual’s risk of becoming an alcoholic increases if they are in a family with the following difficulties:
- An alcoholic parent is depressed or has other psychological problems;
- Both parents abuse alcohol and other drugs;
- The parents’ alcohol abuse is severe and conflicts lead to aggression and violence in the family.
The home environment isn’t the only thing that can influence alcohol abuse in young people. Other risk factors include:
- Significant social transitions such as graduating to middle or high school or getting a driver’s license
- A history of conduct problems
- Depression and other serious emotional problems
- Peer pressure
When addiction is compounded with other traumatic behaviors, children are at a higher risk of developing substance use problems of their own. Children of alcoholics also may have a higher risk for other behavioral and emotional problems.
How do I protect my kids from alcoholism?
Being concerned about protecting your kids is already a great first step! Here are a few strategies to use to cultivate a healthy approach to alcohol in your children.
Be a positive adult role model.
- If you drink yourself, drink responsibly. That means not drinking too much or too often.
- Stay away from alcohol in high-risk situations. An example is don’t drive or go boating when you have been drinking.
- Get help if you think you have an alcohol-related problem.
- Do not give alcohol to your teens. Tell them that any alcohol in your home is off limits to them and to their friends.
Support your children and teens and give them space to grow.
- Be involved in your teens’ lives. Be loving and caring.
- Encourage your teens’ growing independence, but set appropriate limits.
- Make it easy for your teens to share information about their lives.
- Know where your teens are, what they’re doing, who they’re with, and who their friends are.
- Find ways for your teens to be involved in family life, such as by doing chores or caring for a younger brother or sister.
- Set clear rules, including rules about alcohol use. Enforce the rules you set.
- Help your teens find ways to have fun without alcohol.
- Don’t let your teens attend parties where alcohol is served. Make sure alcohol isn’t available at teen parties in your own home.
- Help your teens avoid dangerous situations such as riding in a car driven by someone who has been drinking.
- Help your teens get professional help if you’re worried about their involvement with alcohol.
Recognizing signs of alcoholism in your kids
As a parent, you notice changes with your child and it is normal to be concerned. If your child exhibits any of these signs, give us a call at Infinite Recovery. We have the resources and support to help you navigate a potentially sensitive conversation. Reach out to us at (844) 206-9063.
Physical and health signs of alcohol or drug abuse:
- Eyes that are bloodshot or pupils that are smaller or larger than normal.
- Changes in appetite or sleep patterns.
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain.
- Seizures without a history of epilepsy.
- Deterioration in personal grooming or physical appearance.
- Impaired coordination, injuries/accidents/bruises that they won’t or can’t tell you about. Claims that they don’t know how they got hurt.
- Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing.
- Shakes, tremors, incoherent or slurred speech, impaired or unstable coordination.
Behavioral signs of alcohol or drug abuse:
- Skipping class, declining grades, getting in trouble at school.
- Drop in attendance and performance at work.
- Loss of interest in extracurricular activities, hobbies, sports or exercise due to decreased motivation.
- Complaints from coworkers, supervisors, teachers or classmates.
- Missing money, valuables, alcohol, prescription or prescription drugs.
- Acting isolated, silent, withdrawn, engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors.
- Clashes with family values and beliefs.
- Preoccupation with alcohol and drug-related lifestyle in music, clothing and posters.
- Demanding more privacy, locking doors and avoiding eye contact.
- Sudden change in relationships, friends, favorite hangouts and hobbies.
- Frequently getting into trouble (e.g. arguments, fights, accidents, illegal activities).
- Using eyedrops to mask bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils.
Psychological warning signs of alcohol or drug abuse:
- Unexplained, confusing change in personality and/or attitude.
- Sudden mood changes, irritability, angry outbursts or laughing at nothing.
- Periods of unusual hyperactivity or agitation.
- Lack of motivation; inability to focus, appears lethargic or “spaced out.”
- Appears fearful, withdrawn, anxious, or paranoid, with no apparent reason.
My parent was an alcoholic and I need help.
An Adult Child of an Alcoholic is someone who grew up with alcoholism in their home, but the effect of the childhood pain or trauma that was unresolved emerges in adulthood, which makes being an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (or ACoA) a type of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If you grew up in an alcoholic household, unresolved pain from childhood may be emerging and being played out in adulthood. In her book, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Janet Geringer Woititz outlines the traits of Adult Children of an Alcoholic.
- Assume what normal is;
- Overreact to changes;
- Experience difficulty having fun;
- Feel they are different from others;
- Take themselves too seriously;
- Constantly seek approval;
- Are extremely loyal when loyalty is undeserved;
- Have difficulty with relationships;
- Alterations in relationships;
- Have difficulty finishing tasks;
- Lie unnecessarily;
- Hyper-responsible or irresponsible; and
- Judge themselves mercilessly, experience self-loathing
Many people have great strength, resilience and coping skills, which can help them adapt in order to function as normally as possible. Others do not adapt so readily and face a multitude of problems. Children with alcoholic parents are more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, antisocial behavior, relationship difficulties, behavioral problems, and/or alcohol abuse. Experience tells us that adult children who attend meetings in a supportive community and work the Twelve Steps can deal with the difficult task of trauma work. Along with community, sponsorship by another adult and individual counseling can help you heal from an abusive upbringing. At Infinite Recovery we combine empowering therapeutic techniques with a no excuses approach. We treat men and women as adults and partners in their own recovery. We assist clients in developing individualized goals in all areas of their life and celebrate individual success. Contact us today for a confidential consultation by (844) 206-9063.