Can Family Alcoholism Make You More Likely To Drink?

alcohol beer

Your brain may be primed to drink according to research


If you have a family history of alcoholism, your brain may be conditioned to desire a drink.


Have you ever wondered if alcoholism runs in families? If your parents or grandparents had a drinking problem, are you more likely to develop one too?

If the answer is yes, you wouldn’t be alone. One of the primary reasons people seek out counseling is to help them better understand their relationship with a substance.

That’s why a new study published Biological Psychiatry is so fascinating.

According to the research, people who have a family history of alcoholism experience a surge of dopamine into their system in anticipation of a drink.

Translation – your brain may be biochemically conditioned to experience alcohol as a reward. Study author Lawrence Kegeles, MD, PhD, of Columbia University, said the following about the study in a press release:

“This exaggerated reward center stimulation by expectation of alcohol may put the [individuals with family history] at greater risk of alcohol use disorder, and could be a risk factor in itself.”

This research study examined people at risk for alcohol use disorder (AUD). The breakdown was as follows:

  • 34 healthy participants with no family history of AUD
  • 16 healthy participants with a family history AUD
  • 15 participants diagnosed with AUD

All of the participants underwent brain scans after receiving either an alcohol drink–a cocktail of vodka, tonic, and cranberry–or a placebo drink without the vodka.

Participants were not told the order in which they would receive the drinks. That said, if they received the placebo drink first they were cued into expecting the alcohol drink next.

What researchers found was that the participants who had a family history of alcohol abuse (FHP) “Had a much more pronounced response to the placebo drink than the other groups, indicating that expectation of alcohol caused the FHP group to release more reward center dopamine,” according to Dr. Kegeles.

More: How sobriety changed my life

This finding is significant because the release of dopamine into the reward center of the brain is thought to reinforce drinking behaviors and possibly contribute to risk of AUD.

Cameron Carter, MD, Editor of Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging shared the following about the study:

“This research finding exemplifies how advances in imaging brain chemistry using PET scanning can provide new insights into how differences in brain function in people with a family history of alcoholism can explain their own potential for addiction.”

So, there you have it. This study seems to support the notion of alcoholism running in families and provides a biochemical and neurological cause to boot.

Does alcoholism run in your family? Do you think you are more likely to drink because of this?

About John D. Moore 391 Articles
Dr. John Moore is a licensed counselor and Editor-in-Chief of Guy Counseling. A journalist and blogger, he writes about a variety of topics related to wellness. His interests include technology, outdoor activities, science, and men's health. Check out his show --> The Men's Self Help Podcast