A Family History of Alcoholism
Are You at Risk?

If you are among the millions of people in this country who have a parent, grandparent, or other close relative with alcoholism, you may have wondered what your family's history of alcoholism means for you. Are problems with alcohol a part of your future? Is your risk for becoming an alcoholic greater than for people who do not have a family history of alcoholism? If so, what can you do to lower your risk?

What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is a disease that includes four symptoms:

  • Craving- A strong need, or urge, to drink.

  • Loss of control- Not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun.

  • Physical dependence- Withdrawal symptoms, such as upset stomach, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking.

  • Tolerance- The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get "high".

Many scientific studies, including research conducted among twins and children of alcoholics, have shown that genetic factors influence alcoholism. These findings show that children of alcoholics are about four times more likely than the general population to develop alcohol problems. Children of alcoholics also have a higher risk for many other behavioral and emotional problems. But alcoholism is not determined only by the genes you inherit from your parents. In fact, more than one-half of all children of alcoholics do not become alcoholic. Research shows that many factors influence your risk of developing alcoholism. Some factors raise the risk while others lower it.