Alcoholism Causes: Nature or Nurture

The causes of alcoholism have been studied by hard-nosed scientists and psychologists alike. While Scientists look for either the chemical, or genetic, factors in the body that predetermine a risk for addiction. A psychologist might find the reason in family history and behavior that creates an addiction.

Alcoholism & The Forked Road

For many substance abusers the answer to this question is the Holy Grail in the quest for self-discovery. Some would like to believe their alcoholism was caused by a genetic factor that pushed them towards an addictive lifestyle. Others are more comfortable explaining their addiction through family histories and individual choices.

No matter which fork the user takes, the answer is almost always both.

Meanwhile, it is hard to ignore the effect of behaviors that surround families that are filled with alcoholism and addiction. We are learning that many paths can lead to alcoholism

Alcoholism or Depression Which Came First

Which came first, you could ask, the chicken or the egg? What if, for example, you come from a family predisposed to depression. With that comes a family history that links the depression to the abuse of drugs and alcohol in an effort to “self-medicate” – trying to feel better by using. What then, if a member of that family were to be fortunate enough not to have the strong genetic predisposition to addiction? Maybe the family adopted a child without that genetic marker. Well, that child would find itself in a family that uses alcohol to alleviate their depression, which might push the child into alcohol use during a rough patch in life. This learned behavior could then turn into alcoholism.

Addiction Woes & Survival Skills

The late New York psychiatrist Albert Ellis once said, “Human beings are addiction-prone, period.” He went on to explain that humans become addicted to drugs, alcohol, nicotine, food, work, computer games, golf – you name it. The National Council on Alcoholism And Drug Dependence (NCADD), says we are “hard-wired” to become addicted, mostly because nature likes us that way. If we find a substance that is good for us – various foods, for example – then we repeat the behavior of finding that food and eating it, because nature wants us to stay alive.

To Drink or Not to Drink – Is That a Question?

While studies show a genetic factor is indisputably involved, scientists have yet to find that Holy Grail – the one gene that identifies with a specific addiction. If we found that, we could take cell samples from infants and then tell them, when they could understand it, that it would be better not to drink or use drugs, because they have the genetic marker that makes them susceptible to addiction. That could help some people avoid problems later on.

In reverse, what if we told someone without a clear genetic susceptibility to addiction to “go ahead, drink and do drugs all you want. You’re gene free!”? Well, if we did that, we are clearly asking for trouble.

The chemicals in our brain that normally give us a feeling of happiness and contentment adapt to the abuse. They stop working properly. Now we’ve created an addiction without the gene, because heavy use of drugs or alcohol trumps the genetic factor. Anyone, it turns out, genetic predisposition or not, can become addicted with repeated use of an addictive substance or an enjoyable behavior.

In Abuse and Recovery Behavior Trumps All

There is, of course, no medicine or scientific intervention that can change your genetic make up. However, many forms of behavioral, psychological, and even biological treatments are available to those in recovery. There are chemicals useful for some that can either block the pleasure you would get from using some substances, and there are other substances that can make addicts ill should they use drugs. These things alone are enough to make some stop using. For some, a substitute drug is recommended – one that is less harmful to those addicted as the drug of choice. Even with all this, nothing is a substitute for traditional treatment. Every person in recovery, whether they take medications or not, can benefit from individual and group therapy.

Genetic predisposition or not, understanding your behaviors, moods, triggers, stress points, relationships, family of origin, and other psycho-social factors is key to recovery. You might discover along the way that the most fascinating thing on the entire planet is yourself. Getting to know yourself through treatment is the real Holy Grail – and once you get to that point, nobody can take it away.

If you or someone you love needs help with alcoholism and addiction, please call now.


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