There are two main factors that influence whether someone is predisposed to the disease of alcoholism. The first factor is heredity. Those who have a family history of alcoholism are more likely to develop the disease.

An alcoholic metabolizes alcohol differently than a non-alcoholic. Whereas a non-alcoholic will stop after one or two drinks because they begin to feel the impact of the alcohol, an alcoholic doesn’t have this built-in mechanism that says "okay, that’s enough; I’m starting to feel tipsy." Instead, a powerful craving is triggered in the mind and body that demands more and more alcohol. This is the hereditary or physical aspect of the illness.

The second factor is the predisposing social influences that may contribute to the development of the illness. If a child is raised in a home where one or both parents are alcoholics, the child learns through observation that life involves the regular use of alcohol. Drinking and getting drunk are typical events the child witnesses regularly. Often the child doesn’t learn how to handle feelings, especially anger, constructively, and they don’t learn how to solve conflict well. Finding mom passed out on the couch drunk when they come home from school may be "normal." Watching dad hit mom when he’s drunk may also be a regular occurrence.

Even if the parents are not alcoholics but have been raised in alcoholic homes, they may not have learned how to deal with life maturely and constructively. Therefore a child who grows up in an alcoholic home is often not given the proper tools to deal with life effectively.

Not every child who grows up in an alcoholic home will become an alcoholic. Some may not be physically predisposed to the illness, but they are exposed to the social influences and chances are they will develop some sort of addiction, be it to work, shopping, food, sex or gambling.

Michele Langmead was a registered counsellor with Focus on the Family Canada at the time of publication. .

© 2010 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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