Being the child of an alcoholic parent, or worse parents, is difficult. You have had to deal with all the unpleasant consequences, which can range from neglect and embarrassment up to physical and emotional abuse. No child should have to live that way, but unfortunately, alcoholism is a disease that some people never find the strength to beat. On top of a childhood spent with an alcoholic, you may also fear having the same fate as your parents.
It is an understandable concern and many children of alcoholics choose never to drink because of it. The truth is that being an alcoholic is not your destiny simply because your parents were. You have the power to be whatever you want to be and to either use alcohol responsibly or to abstain from drinking completely.
The fact that alcoholism tends to run in families is no surprise or a new idea. For many years, long before any understanding of genetics and heritability, people recognized that alcohol abuse was more prevalent in some families than in others. Modern science has been able to pinpoint genes in the DNA of some people that contribute to a tendency to become addicted to substances. Addiction is not just a problem of alcohol. People with this combination of genes are susceptible to nearly any kind of addiction. Having the genes does not mean that a person will come addicted, but they are more likely to have the disease than other people.
Many studies have linked the addiction genes with problems with alcohol and drugs. For instance, someone can have a gene that makes them metabolize alcohol in a certain way. The result is that when they drink, they need more to get drunk than other people. This can lead to heavy drinking, tolerance, and dependence. Another gene makes some people feel very sick when they drink. These people are rarely addicts. Research done with twins has indicated that identical twins, those with the same genes, are more likely to both be addicts when their genetics contained the components for a susceptibility to addiction. In twins who are fraternal, with different genes, it is more common for only one twin to be an addict.
That being said, just because your parent or parents were alcoholics, does not mean that they or you carry the genes for addiction. Around 50 to 60 percent of alcoholics have the genetic predisposition for addiction. That leaves plenty of alcoholics who cannot blame their genes. Even if you do carry the genetic recipe for addiction, you do not have to become an alcoholic. There are plenty of people who have the genes and are not addicts in any way.
Another good indication of your predisposition to alcoholism is your family history. Think about your extended family. Do any aunts, uncles, cousins, or grandparents struggle with addiction? If you have several family members who have suffered with alcoholism, you can assume that you have some sort of susceptibility to the disease. Again, this does not mean that alcoholism is your fate, but it does mean you need to be careful.
Another factor, in addition to genetics and family history that can lead you to be an alcoholic, is your experiences as a child. If your life with your alcoholic parents was filled with neglect, abuse, fear, or other destructive experiences, you may feel compelled to turn to alcohol yourself. Even if your parents were not abusive or terribly neglectful, that is if they were functioning alcoholics, you are still at risk for the disease. You grew up watching your parents use alcohol as a way to cope with their hardships. Your parents’ behaviors can be strongly suggestive to how you live your life.
What is your Destiny?
In spite of all the odds that are not in your favor, the answer is that your destiny is up to you. You do not have to become an alcoholic and you do not have to follow in the footsteps of your parents. Being the child of an alcoholic is tough. It means you had to suffer more than other children and that now, you may need to battle the urge to drink. There are many things you can do to avoid becoming dependent on alcohol: