If my parents are alcoholics, am I going to be an alcoholic?

Jessica Kennedy, Mental Health America

Not necessarily.

Good news: there’s no such thing as one addiction gene that’s going to make you addicted to alcohol automatically. Genes are really complex. But research suggests there are a lot of different genes that make people more likely to develop an addiction (or a substance use disorder) in the future. That doesn’t mean that someone with a family history of alcoholism is going to develop an alcohol addiction. It’s just one of many factors.

We like this list of some of the genetic factors that may influence alcoholism.

In addition to your genetics (the nature in nature vs. nurture), there are a lot of environmental factors that influence (the nurture) whether you are likely to develop an addiction.

Let’s say your parents were addicted to alcohol, and as a result, they were mean and absent parents who called you names and missed out on your school plays. Maybe you developed low self-esteem and guilt, and then when you were an adult, you drank a lot to cope with those feelings. That’s the environment at work.

However, it’s also entirely possible that you reacted to that behavior differently and grew up too fast, cooking dinner and doing dishes since you were eight years old, and now you’re an adult that’s intolerant to alcohol use and codependent on parents you’re always trying to save.

Or anything in between. It’s impossible to take one person and know for certain how things are going to check out. We’re all a complex byproduct of our genetics and our upbringing, and none of us are the same.

If your parents drink a lot and it bothers you—even if you’ve moved out or are on your own—there are resources out there to help. You can seek individual therapy, or you can go to meetings specifically for family members, such as Al-Anon or Alateen.

Treatment & Resources