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For years people have argued that alcoholism is a choice and not a learned or inherited disease.
These people will normally agree that yes, children are in fact influenced by family, but purely of a social nature, and that this disease is actually caused by poor economic status, poor social upbringings, or merely by imitating the behaviors of those who raised them. However, research has proven that in a great deal of cases there is in fact enormous basis for alcoholism being a genetic or inherited disease.
While genetics cannot predict alcoholics very well, research can show that one can be born to be an alcoholic; the action and reaction taken in spite of or because of this gene however determines the outcome. When paired with a poor social upbringing it can prove to be quite difficult for one to overcome the influences that are trying to determine their lifestyle choices. As with everything in our lives alcoholism is a product of Nature versus Nurture, completely made up by both.
In “The Behavioral Genetics of Alcoholism” Matt McGue explains some of the people who are at a higher risk for alcoholism. “People who were reared in an environment where drinking was tolerated and encouraged, people suffering from a mental illness and people who are biologically related to an alcoholic” (McGue, 109). At times alcohol abuse appears to be uncontrollable and most often unexpected, no one believes they will someday fall victim to this disease, let alone will they allow their child, grandchild, or other beloved family member to do so.
However most people resemble the characteristics of those who reared them and most often this is done completely subconsciously. When one of both parents drink on a regular basis this becomes the norm in the eyes of the children. If drinking is consistently done within the boundaries that one is confined to and if parents condone these poor habits it is most likely that these children will begin to believe the same.. It is used as a reward McGue states “heritability estimates suggest that approximately 50-60% of the variability in alcoholism liability is associated with genetic factors,” (McGue, 109).
With over half of the victims being relatives of alcoholics it is hard to argue the heritability factor. There is evidence that also suggest that even when raised in a non-drinking environment while still have the genetics of an alcoholic parent, alcoholism is still greatly prevalent. McGue claims with the help of an adoption study that “studies have shown that the reared-away (or adopted) sons of male alcoholics have higher rates of alcoholism than the reared-away sons of nonalcoholics. (McGue, 109)
Therefore, if two children were adopted into the same family, one the biological child of an alcoholic and one not, although raised exactly the same with the same morals and ethics the child born to the alcoholic is much more likely to become an alcoholic himself. Genetics alone can cause certain behaviors in people. If a child grows up in an environment where neither of the parents are alcoholics but the child carries the gene to become one, the child may have a higher chance of becoming an alcoholic as an adult due to genetic factors.
However, because the child is not exposed to alcohol use regularly they may never exhibit alcoholic tendencies. A person may have an even greater risk if they have genetic factors, and they are brought up in an environment where there is a lot of alcohol use. Furthermore, if a child is raised in a family that condones drinking they are more likely to become alcoholics. In Jay Matthew’s article, “A Feverish Reaction to Teenage Drinking,” he explains the harsh reality of teenage drinking and just how often this occurs today in our socity by quoting Brian O’Rourke who states, “40% of early teen drinkers become alcoholics. (Matthews)
Parents who are allowing their children and most often their friends, to drink underage are simply giving these children more time to become alcoholics. It is no surprise that the longer one drinks the higher their chances are of developing a problem. Teenagers often “binge drink” or drink rapidly in high doses due to a lack of availability, this is another factor that leads to this disease. In some family units alcohol becomes not only an ambiguous symbol of their family but also in many cases it becomes the only means of relation between some members of their clan.
Becoming the only thing they have to do thither, the only thing they can relate on, their only method of bonding and communication. It is in these cases that it is most prevalent of the crashing together of the social causes and genetic causes of the disease. Families of this caliber most often use alcohol as a method of reward and celebration. Family gatherings center on the consumption of alcohol. This is also a very dangerous method of bonding amongst family members, a lot of families break down at this point, fights are started, grudges are born, and families are torn apart beyond repair.
Putting a bunch of alcoholics or even drunks in the same area will most often lead to disaster and heartache. On the flipside of that coin, are the children who grow up in a household where alcohol is completely forbidden and taboo. These children are raised to believe that alcohol is completely wrong and are never exposed to it at all. Once “set free” into the real world these individuals are exposed to alcohol and will sometimes become heavy drinkers in a rebellious manner due to never being introduced to it or taught about how to consume responsibly.
In other countries alcohol is introduced at much earlier ages and is not viewed or used in the same ways that it is in America. For instance the Orthodox Jews begin drinking at a much younger age and it is not only accepted but encouraged in their culture. “They drink at a much earlier age in life, and with relatively great frequency. They show a minimum amount of intoxication and do not represent any behavioral illness relating to alcoholism since they start drinking at younger ages that people in America (Ullman, 50).
In some cultures, like ones in South Africa, there are entire tribes and communities that use alcohol as a spiritual tool. They drink alcohol to begin hallucinations of the spirits speaking to them and telling them to do certain things. They will spend hours and days in a complete drunken stupor and this is not frowned upon or thought negatively of at all. Roman Catholics are also known for their alcohol consumption, and in many churches even consume during church, drinking wine as the blood of Christ.
Jessica Leigh and Johnny Ray are twins who were raised by their southern Baptist mother and by their alcohol addicted father. When sitting down with Jessica one would hear stories of how her dad would come home nearly every night after drinking in the bars and how she could smell the whiskey on his breath as soon as he walked into the house. Jessica shares, “I knew from an early age, much earlier than most should know these things, what alcohol was. I could tell you the difference in what beer and liquor smelled like,
I could even tell you the difference in scotch and whiskey upon a glance. I was raised to believe alcohol was the devils tool by my mother, yet I played witness to my daddy partaking in it nearly every night”. The twins’ experience was twisted in the way that they had both worlds completely at their finger tips. They were being raised both ways, they were forbidden something that they were constantly around. For those who believe in the theory that alcohol is completely genetic then they would believe that without a doubt Jessica and Johnny would grow up to be alcoholics.
For those who believe that it is completely social and how you are raised they would also believe that they would both be alcoholics because they were directly raised with the disease of their father. However, when the belief is that it is a mixture of both you can see how Jessica and Johnny may not have grown up to suffer from this disease because their mother taught them better, their mother raised them right, their mother made them aware of the dangers.
When believing in both the social and genetic aspect of the cause it is possible to see too how perhaps they grew up to be complete opposites. Jessica did not grow up with a drinking problem, in fact she will proudly state that she has, “never touched a drop in [her] life”, mostly out of fear of the outcome. Unfortunately, however, Johnny was unavailable to give a comment or insight on this subject due to being incarcerated for murder from a drunken driving accident when he was 24.
These were two children with nearly the exact same genes raised in the exact same manner, one grew up to never touch a drink, and one grew up to be an alcoholic. When asked why she thought this was the case in her family Jessica says, “I have always thought it was because he was a boy and closer to our dad, always attempting to follow in dad’s footsteps. I was fortunate enough to be closer to mom, to God, and to have a better since of willpower. ” She continues by saying, “I honestly believe that I was born to be an addict, I just made my mind up not to be”.
A great portion of children of alcoholics will say that they think that they were destined to follow in those footsteps, but that they chose a better life for themselves. According to Wikipedia the nature versus nurture debates concern the relative importance of an individual’s innate qualities (“nature”, i. e. nativism, or innatism) versus personal experiences (“nurture”, i. e. empiricism or behaviorism) in determining or causing individual differences in physical and behavioral traits. (Wikipedia) The nature part of this argument is the genes that one is born with.
If one is in fact born with an alcoholic gene then nature would be forcing that person to be an alcoholic, the person would have no choice but to become an alcoholic much like if they had a cancer gene from their parents they would have no choice but to have cancer. It’s hard to see that there are similarities in a disease like alcoholism and cancer, but they are both deadly diseases that can be inherited from generation to generation. With the nurture part of the argument is the ways in which one is raised, their social and environmental surroundings and teachings.
Although one may be raised by an alcoholic they still have a chance to learn a different way of life due to the nurturing of their parents and other role models. It is hoped that although they are born with a gene that is destined to plague them they will have influences in their life that will teach them other pathways to take. Nature verses nurture is present in nearly every aspect of life, and everyone has a difference in opinion on what makes one the way they are. It is my belief that when it comes to this disease they are very equal in how someone will turn out.
If one is born with this gene and they do not have a good social and environmental upbringing they have very little chance of overcoming their situation and making a better life for themselves. If they are born or placed into good surroundings it is more likely that they can beat the disease and make more out of their lives. Jessica summed it up best at the end of her interview, “I asked my dad one day why he made the decisions that he did knowing they would affect us in so many ways. He told me it was because his dad was an alcoholic, I very calmly looked at him and said, ‘yeah so was mine, and I managed to beat it. ”
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