If you have a parent, grandparent, or other close relative with alcoholism, you may have problems with alcohol down the road. Many studies of children of alcoholics have found that they are about four times more likely to develop alcohol problems than people without a family history of alcoholism, says the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
But alcoholism isn’t determined only by the genes you inherit. In fact, more than half of all children of alcoholics don’t become alcoholics. Many factors influence your risk of developing alcoholism. These include how your parents raised you, your friends, your stress level, and how available alcohol is to you.
Knowing that you’re at risk is important, though, because you can take steps to protect yourself.
According to the NIAAA, alcoholism is a disease that includes at least three of the following four symptoms:
1. Craving. A strong need or urge to drink.
2. Loss of control. Not being able to stop drinking or to control the results once drinking starts.
3. Physical dependence. Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, are experienced when you stop drinking
4. Tolerance. The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol over time.
What to do
If you’re worried that your family’s history of alcohol problems or your troubled family life puts you at risk of becoming alcoholic, here are some steps from the NIAAA to help prevent it:
Avoid underage drinking. The risk for alcoholism is higher if you begin to drink at an early age. This is because of social factors and genes.
Drink moderately as an adult. If you have a family history of alcoholism, you are at greater risk of becoming dependent on alcohol. You should approach even moderate drinking with caution because you may find it difficult to stay at that level.
If your family has problems with alcohol and you’re concerned you may be heading that way as well, talk with your health care provider and substance-abuse counselor. They can recommend support groups or helpful organizations, or even treatment if needed.
If you’re an adult who already has begun to drink, your health care provider can assess your drinking. He or she can tell you if you need to cut back and advise you how to go about it.