Thursday, 30 July 2015

Alcoholism and Ancestry

It has long been accepted that alcoholism is, at least in part, an inherited trait. 40-60% of your susceptibility to alcoholism is genetic. The remainder is environmental. One study I looked at estimated that 25% of children of alcoholics become alcoholics themselves.

In her fabulous memoir - Drinking, a Love Story - Caroline Knapp writes: Alcohol travels through families like water over a landscape, sometimes in torrents, sometimes in trickles, always shaping the ground it covers in inexorable ways....In some families alcohol washes across whole generations, a liquid plague.

We can fight against our genes (after all, three quarters of children of alcoholics don't follow that path), but there are traits and tendencies buried deep within our souls.

I was thinking about this as I was dreaming (again) about our holiday in the land of my fathers: Cornwall (leaving tomorrow!). Despite the fact that I've never lived there, the minute I see the harsh, yet stunning, landscape unfolding in front of me, I feel an overwhelming sense of coming home.

There's something about the rugged cliffs, windswept moors, multi-coloured heathers and rough seas that appeals, at a fundamental level, to my Celtic roots.

I am a classic Celt. Dark haired, blue eyed, pale skinned. Years ago, when men were trying to chat me up, they used to say that I looked like Elizabeth Taylor in her younger years (they were lying, obviously). Spookily, until recently, I rather resembled Liz in her later years - puffy, overweight alcoholic, going slowly crazy.

It's often said that the Celts (particularly the Irish) have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. I can't find a reliable study on this one but, spookily, there is a recent study showing that people with blue eyes (like the Celts) are significantly more likely to have alcohol problems.

Apparently, the genetic components that determine eye colour line up along genes related to excessive alcohol use. How weird is that? That's me, Liz Taylor, Richard Burton (Welsh - also a Celt) many of you?

I worry about my blue eyed children and their mother with alcohol issues (still can't say the A word!).

I particularly worry about #2 who, at nine, is already horribly obsessed by sugar and Minecraft. He will happily spend hours (if he were allowed to) watching Stampy videos. (If you don't have children this age you will not have heard of Stampy. All I can say is "lucky you!")

But I remind myself that only half of alcoholism is genetic. The other 50% is environmental. And the environment that I'm creating now is one where alcohol is never drunk at home alone. It is a treat (for Mr SM, not for me, obviously), for special occasions.

Because no-one needs alcohol to be happy. Right kids?

Love SM x


  1. Minecraft! My 14 year old loves it for some reason I am paying for his own server too!! He makes you tube videos likes stampy just with less followers it never ends!! Keeps him out of trouble though!

    1. Mine too! His technical knowledge far exceeds mine. And he's 12.
      But he has moved on to call of duty and destiny more. I almost miss mine craft.

  2. It's definitely genetic. Both of my fathers siblings were alcoholics, two of my mothers three siblings. And there was very little drinking in my home, so that's not how I got the bug. I experiences cravings practically from the first time I drank alcohol. Even as a child I was VERY keen to have a big slurp of my parents' occational beer. I'm born this way. And even then I knew it was dangerous, but I couldn't help myself. I'll have to get around to warning the kids, but so far they seem fine - being 15, 17 and 19 and not drinking. Maybe my example is sufficient.

  3. Have been awol for a week or so, but am still plodding on :) (though I have super clean cupboards now!). Interesting about the ancestry...while I have some alcoholics a few generations back, none of us are huge drinkers.

  4. SM, I found that study too - the "blue eyes" one, they used a really small sample (around 10,000 people) and all the people in the study were suffering from some form of illness such as depression (which may already pre-dispose toward alcoholism), so there was no control group, and they found a correlation to one gene.
    There is no causal, genetic link for alcoholism. I can accept that children of alcoholics grow up to be alcoholics themselves (see my blog, Sins of the Fathers), but again, the only evidence is that it is an environmental one.
    The 'disease and genetic" school of thought is extremely convenient for the Alcohol Industry. (It would be interesting to see who sponsors some of the research). If Alcoholism is genetic - not environmental, then its OUR faulty biological makeup - and all the advertising, subtle and not so subtle has no effect! It's not their fault!
    The liquid plague that washes across generations..........can be washed away. As you are doing now xxx

  5. Interesting isn't it? I'm Scottish/Irish/Cornish mix genetically. My father was, I came to realise, a functioning alcoholic - had a stressful job and drank steadily throughout the evening getting quietly sozzled, no real drama. Never got hangovers. My farger's brother is also a big drinker. What intrigues me is that his father (Irish ancestry) was teetotal - he once told my mother that he really liked alcohol, so much in fact that he could see how easy it would be to fritter all the money away on it on payday, and how easy it would be to go down that path. He never drank again after the brief flirtation in his 20's. Did he recognize a dangerous tendency in himself?

  6. My father drank heavily and I am Irish. I knew I was playing with a loaded deck from the beginning. Haha. x

  7. My moms family are true Nova Scotia scots. All heavy drinkers, except my mom, who might be the epitome of a dry drunk.
    My dads family were religious, but he has his own a
    Cool issues that we never discuss.
    Growing up my parents rarely drank, but my relatives all boozed hard. I never got in until I started drinking.
    I am extremely obsessive compulsive. It helps me accomplish many things, but I am not surprised alcohol won.

  8. Like you said the other day I'm trying to create a new normal for my kids too. As a Scottish/irish descendant (but dark eyed and dark skinned) married to an irish man, life growing up was full of drunken parties and any excuse to have a few drinks. As anne says you only really got in when you joined in. On a lighter note I now can't keep picturing you as step (posh drinking lady) from goggle box! !!

  9. Replies
    1. LOL! I am a bit Steph, but (now) without the drink!

    2. I mean I've been picturing you as steph since i started reading your blog but now that you've described how you actually look I can't keep picturing you as her. I'm gutted ;-) You're obviously much lovelier x

  10. I admire all you moms who are stopping drinking for your children as well as yourselves.

  11. Stampy cat and that bloody laugh..

  12. Great post SM. I do think there is a genetic component to problem drinking. MY father was an alcoholic. One of my brothers is, and whilst I cannot say that I am an alcoholic but I definitely have a problem. My husband's father was an alcoholic (has been sober for over 30 years now) My husband liked a drink when he was younger but is what I consider to be a 'normie' now. I worry for my son.
    BTW, we definitely know Stampy, and Diamond Minecart, Minecraft etc. Our 8 year could spend hours on it too!