Is Alcoholism Inherited? Dr. Sack Talks Genes With iTriage

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It’s definitely not easy growing up with an alcoholic parent – and even more difficult if both parents are alcoholics.   Alcoholic homes are often chaotic, volatile, and unpredictable –factors that render children especially vulnerable to a host of emotional and behavioral problems.  That background greatly increases the odds that they, too, will abuse alcohol or drugs.

Dr. David Sack, an addiction psychiatrist and CEO of Promises Treatment Centers, recently discussed the role of genetics and other factors in the development of alcoholism and drug addiction in an interview with iTriage.  He said that about 50 percent of a person’s risk for becoming an alcoholic is due to genetics.

Not only are children of alcoholics more vulnerable to addiction, about half of them will end up marrying an alcoholic, Sack said.

As grim as that percentage sounds, however, Sack made it clear that one’s biology doesn’t dictate the future.   Other factors, including but not limited to environment and upbringing, “make up the other half of the risk of developing an addiction.”   Sack noted that people do have at least some choice and control.  Abstinence from alcohol and drugs is one such choice – and the one guaranteed way to avoid becoming an addict.

Helping an Addict

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence estimates that 17.6 million people in the United States suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence.

“If someone you care about is suffering from alcoholism, chances are the problem isn’t going to solve itself,” Sack told iTriage, He said friends and family members need to be proactive, talking to the addict about the consequences of his or her drinking and having a plan to get them into treatment.   Multiple conversations may be necessary, however.

Sack suggests that family members “look for opportunities [to talk again], especially after a specific consequence occurs due to their alcohol use.”

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