Published On: Fri, Apr 15th, 2016

Risk Factors for Alcohol Abuse

People look for genetic and psychological markers for alcoholism for two primary reasons. The first is to formulate an opinion on whether or not a person is predisposed to alcoholism. The aim here is to guess as accurately as possible what the odds might be for a young person to grow up and become an alcoholic. If you do your homework right, it is reasoned, then you could warn a youngster not to touch alcohol, because he or she is genetically or behaviorally at a high risk for becoming dependent on alcohol.

Wouldn’t that be a relief?

We could warn all the high risk people to stay away from demon rum and everyone else could relax and drink at their leisure with no worries that dependency would develop.

You can quickly see the false promises of this magical thinking. Scientists have found a gene that is said to be a marker for alcoholism, but they do not know how it works. Besides that, laws in this country do not discriminate between people based on their genetic makeup. We can’t fence of a portion of society from their rights, just because it sounds politically correct to do so.

Similarly, we can locate families where the attitudes towards alcohol put the members of that family at a greater risk than other families. But science quickly breaks down here as well. Psychology is not nearly advanced enough to predict the outcomes of one life from another. Millions of people grow up surrounded by alcoholics and spent their lives sober and addiction free. Similarly, many people grow up in sober households and turn into alcoholics, anyway. And, even if we could make accurate predictions, laws do not restrict alcoholics from having children.

Recovery programs understand these realities. Pinnacle Peak Recovery says, “In order to get help, an alcoholic must be able to surrender to the fact that each of their troubles in life are a result of their drinking or cannot be resolved with alcohol.”

That quick synopsis mentions neither nurture (upbringing) nor nature (genetics) as necessary to either diagnose or treat alcoholism. All it takes is admitting that alcohol has got the better of you and a willingness to take the first step. The rest falls into place after that.



As one alcoholic I know said recently, “If my sister quit drinking, all her problems would start to go away. That’s how it worked for me. You don’t drink to solve problems. You quit drinking to solve problems.”

A quick and easy diagnosis is also available on the same Web site. “If you can’t limit your drinking or get anxious when you don’t continue drinking, you most likely have a problem.”

One of the masterful components of 12-step recovery programs is their tendency to put scientific or medial-sounding jargon into plain, simple sentence. What is addiction? It is the inability to stop something even when you try to do so. It’s very simple. You don’t need $10 words to define the obvious.

The second reason people look for genetic and psychological markers to define their alcoholism is to put a sensible vocabulary and a pragmatic story line to their own drinking problem. In recovery, there is an almost universal need – and a very important psychological reason – for understanding how someone’s alcoholism develops. Retracing your upbringing and your family’s relationship with alcohol can help reduce anxiety of a recovery alcoholic, simply because the alternative is to blame themselves to such a degree that they start drinking again to numb the pain of the mistakes they may have made.

Addictions are said to be shame-based illnesses. Addicts are ashamed at being addicts and this internal pain simply triggers another bout of abuse of their substance of choice. Yes, it may sound ironic, but alcoholics drink to forget that they have a drinking problem. Then they wake up the next day and go through the same cycle again.

A final reason to discuss the markers for alcoholism is to gain an understanding of what might separate an alcoholic from someone who does not drink or someone who can control their drinking. The explanation here, which is sometimes helpful, is that some people are genetically allergic to alcohol. They have a build in low tolerance for the stuff and stay away from it because of that. The medical profession has made some use of this phenomenon by developing drugs that make people very sick if they take the drug, then drink alcohol during the same day. This is a medically-induced allergy to alcohol that has helped some people recover from alcohol dependence, although this is only done with medical supervision and, usually, on a temporary basis only.

Author: Jimmy Simond


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