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Nature vs Nuture: A Look at Alcoholism


One of life’s biggest debates is the nature vs nurture argument, which is considered when questioning why we do the things we do. We love to explore the reasoning behind our decisions, goals, and aspirations.

Which can be pretty close to those of our parents but can also be influenced by the type of lives we have led and the people/cultures we have been around. Nature only contributes to the physical aspect of who we are but through nurture, that is how we gain perspective of who we want to be.

Nurture is how we use our environment as a tool. We learn every day from our surroundings, meet new people and explore new places to become better individuals.

So how do we determine if someone’s behavior is influenced more by their genetic makeup = nature or by their upbringing and where/how they grew up = nurture.

The wrath of Alcoholism

Studies show that alcoholism is a disease that continues to be on the rise, it’s been reported that 16.6% million adults ages 18 years or older have been treated for alcoholism. Studies also show that adolescents that drink before reaching adulthood do not develop their brain functioning properly. They are also more vulnerable to becoming alcoholics in the future.

It affects mainly the home, all over the country, it’s the lead cause of separation and strife amongst families.

According to a study done in 2012, more than 10% of children live with a parent that has alcoholism.

This goes to show you the impact alcohol abuse can have on a family. Spouses fight due to the financial strain of the addiction and children rebel because of the instability that it brings into their lives.

While gathering some information, I came across a case study about a single mother named Cathy Rivers with three children. She was previously married to a very angry husband, who abused her as her children watched. She began drinking heavily to get through all the physical pain. Her abusive husband also drank heavily. When the kids started being neglected, child services were alerted. They were taken away from their parents, separated and put in foster homes.

This caused much hardship in their life. Having been exposed so early to so much trauma caused two of the children, now adults to also abuse alcohol. With one exception, the middle child who became a doctor.

So what does that tell us? That there are people who have gone through early alcohol exposure and have made the decision not to consume. They have chosen to live a healthy lifestyle, made better decisions to better their lives.

Is Alcoholism caused by our nature?

Nature refers to genetic, hormonal and neuro-chemical traits that have been passed down through our genes. In other words, there are things about us that have been instilled in us from conception, which we cannot help but accept. Height, life expectancy, hair loss in men and sometimes talents or mental capabilities, may be passed down.

Studies show that your genetic composition is 50% responsible if you develop alcoholism.

So who are we to blame?

Are we genetically predisposed to alcoholism?

genetically predisposed

It is a known fact that there are genes we carry that make us more vulnerable to certain diseases or ailments. For example, breast cancer is usually hereditary, passed down from generation to generation, yet studies show that only 5-10% of those cases are known to be caused by a gene defect that has been passed down.

If nature is only responsible for 50% of your Alcoholism, where does that leave the other 50%?

I think that other half is left up to the choices we make in our life. It’s a known fact that the first taste of alcohol is pretty bad to anyone, in order to even drink socially you must acquire a taste for it.

So to develop Alcoholism, one must continue to drink to the point of inebriation, all the while building tolerance for more and more alcohol. It’s important to understand the disease aspect of Alcoholism but it’s not all passed down. We must train our mind to be strong, train our habits and refrain from things that may cause instability in our life. Through rehabilitation and behavior modification you can reach a fulfilling life and enjoy the present, which is a gift.

Gene Mutations and the Development of Alcoholism

Researchers in England have discovered a specific gene that regulates alcohol consumption, and when this gene is mutated or faulty it can cause excessive drinking. In addition to finding this specific gene, the underlying mechanism that causes this phenomenon has also been discovered. Researchers from five British universities conducted experiments in mice in which specific parts of their genetic code were altered at random and were tested for alcohol preference.

Mice with this genetic alteration and normal mice were given a choice between drinking water or drinking a bottle of diluted alcohol. The results of this study showed that normal mice showed no interest in alcohol and drink little or no alcohol when offered a free choice between a bottle of water and a bottle of diluted alcohol. However, the mice with a genetic mutation to the gene Gabrb1 overwhelmingly preferred drinking the bottle of diluted alcohol and these mice chose to consume almost 85% of their daily fluid as drinks containing alcohol.

Additionally, the mice with the Gabrb1 mutation were willing to work to obtain the diluted alcohol mixture by pushing a lever and would do so for longer periods of time. These mice would voluntarily consume sufficient alcohol in an hour to become intoxicated and even have impaired coordination and motor skills. Dr. Quentin Anstee, who was the joint lead author of the study, stated the following:

“It’s amazing to think that a small change in the code for just one gene can have such profound effects on complex behaviours like alcohol consumption. We are continuing our work to establish whether the gene has a similar influence in humans, though we know that in people alcoholism is much more complicated as environmental factors come into play. But there is the real potential for this to guide development of better treatments for alcoholism in the future.”

How Can One Specific Gene Start the Development of Alcoholism

The Gabrb1 gene is an important component of the receptor in the brain that responds to the neurotransmitter GABA. GABA is important and helping inhibit brain activity. When this specific gene has mutated or has been altered in some way, it causes this specific receptor to activate spontaneously even when the usual GABA trigger was not present. These changes were particularly noticeable in the brain region known as the nucleus accumbens which controls reward and pleasure sensations. In addition to the nucleus accumbens, alcohol also directly affects the amygdala which regulates emotions, behavior, and motivation. Researchers have known for years there has been a direct correlation between GABA networks in the brain and alcohol intake. With the discovery of the role the Gabrb1 gene plays in the reinforcement of drinking behavior, researchers hope to modify this study in human populations.

What is Nurture?

The society we live in and the environment we grow up in is nurture. It is the influence, that the outside world has in the development of our character, in our existence. In most cases, where and how we grow up determines, where we are going but can your environment make you drink, excessively?

Studies show that the cost of advertising had an influx of 620% between the years 1995-1997. We are constantly being bombarded by beer advertisement, through our television screens and billboards. Even music encourages the use of alcohol, all the while minimizing the dangers of habitual drinking which can lead to alcoholism.

So how much of an impact can your surroundings have on you? Actually, your environment can have a lot of influence on the life path you choose. In some cases it might even oppress you. It’s sad but depending on your demographics, where your from can even determine where you might end up in life.

For example, research shows that people who live in poverty tend to live clustered. Mainly in areas populated by other people, who are also under the poverty level. They argue that this concentration is what makes urban communities more susceptible to crime and drug use.

Most people from the inner cities are completely stereotyped, it is expected for a young boy who grew up in a bad neighborhood to engage in illicit activity, go to jail or die from gun violence.

Yes, sometimes they do but there are so many examples of outstanding and extraordinary stories of people who were dirt poor and managed to be successful in their field.

Oprah is the perfect example of somebody who fought to get to where she is. She didn’t feel oppressed by her environment or defined by situations she has been through. Even a teen pregnancy, in which the baby was born stillbirth, wouldn’t keep her down.

Alcoholism has been proven to be caused by genetics, partially. The rest is up to YOUR nurture. The people you associate with, the lifestyle you lead and the choices you make can all lead you into a “habitual drinking” habit. Usually, there is a thin line between habitual drinking and alcoholism, very thin.

If you or anyone is struggling with Alcoholism please get help. The depths of Alcoholism only get deeper after every drink. You can do this, fight for what matters to you. Your family and friends might be concerned about how much you are drinking.

There might be dependency in our life due to financial stress, loss of a loved one or fear. Fear of what tomorrow may bring, fear of happiness. Whatever your issues are alcohol is not the answer. Find that still voice in your heart that is pleading you to stop. That you can overcome this burden that is addiction.  We are here to help. There are so many resources available to you or your loved ones in your community.


Stephanie T.

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