Is alcoholism genetic? Everything you need to know as Vicky Pattinson opens up about her battles

·3-min read
 (PA)
(PA)

Vicky Pattison has opened up about her struggle with alcohol and said she was “scared” to have kids who felt “broken” like her.

The former Geordie Shore star, 34, has been working with Channel 4 on a documentary about her father, who is an alcoholic and her own relationship with alcohol.

During an interview with Sky’s Beth Rigby, Vicky admitted to having an “addictive personality”, adding that she was scared of history repeating itself, as her father is an alcoholic.

Vicky explained that she was unable to live a “balanced” life and was often self-sabotaging. The media personality said: “I always worried because I’m like him in a lot of ways and I was aware that I had an addictive personality.”

Speaking about her fears around having children, Vicky said: “I was also just really scared that I was going to have children who felt in some way broken like me.

“But the documentary has brought us a lot of peace and clarity.”

But, what is alcoholism, and is it genetic? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is alcoholism?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines alcohol dependency as a form of problem drinking that has become severe, with compulsive behaviors and physical dependence associated with the condition.

What causes alcoholism?

Typically, alcohol addiction is considered to involve several complex risk factors:

  • Genetics

  • Family history

  • Current environment

  • Gender

  • Mental health condition

Stress in one’s work or home life may trigger an addiction. When the person drinks alcohol, for example, they may feel relaxed and happy compared to the stress they feel when they are sober. This reinforces the desire to use alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress.

Those who have mental illnesses, especially anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are very likely to struggle with co-occurring alcohol use disorder.

Women are at risk of developing alcoholism faster than men due to differences in body mass, hormones, and metabolism.

Is alcohol dependecy genetic?

Genetics and family history are the most correlated with risk of alcohol dependency, in fact, genetic risk is about half of the problem, while family history is the other half.

Certainly, genetics are passed down through families, but family history also includes the environment in which one was raised. Childhood abuse, parental struggles, and mental illness in close family members all contribute to the risk of developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

These are numerous genes found to be associated with substance abuse, including alcoholism. Some genes can help a person regulate their alcohol consumption or avoid the substance altogether; others increase the person’s risk of abusing alcohol.

Gene expression is also affected by environment. If a person grows up in a house with a parent who abuses drugs, struggles with mental illness, suffers a major financial setback or similar stress, and the child has a gene linked to alcohol use disorder, they are very likely to develop this condition later in life.

Prevention and education programs can address this risk as part of regular medical checkups. Genetics are understood to be a component of AUD, but not the sole cause.

If you’re struggling with alcohol abuse, there are some useful tips on the NHS website for support.

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