The focus of this paper is alcoholism. The aspects that will be examined in the following pages are the biology of alcoholism, and the genetic basis determining that alcoholism is a hereditary disease. Clarification of the phases of alcoholism as well as possible explanations of the nature of the disease will be offered. Examination of studies concerning biological markers associated with alcoholism and advanced animal testing will allow further understanding of alcoholism and related problems.
With these biological components established, it is important to further explore a study of alcoholism in different ethnic groups, countries and cultures and as it relates to gender.
The role that alcoholism plays in varying cultures and the reasons behind its presence it is still largely debated. Despite all of the studies and information gathered thus far, scientists are still largely undecided as to the precise etiology of this disease because of its extremely complicated combination of physical and psychological components.
Due to the complicated combination of aspects that form alcoholism researchers have defined phases that attempt to separate contributors not in matters of importance, but chronology. The first phase of alcoholic tendencies begins before birth and continues to the subject’s first alcoholic experience. Here in the predromal phase, genetic factors, intra uterine factors and childhood environment all contribute to the susceptibility of a person to alcoholism. It is obvious from this point why alcoholism runs in families; genetics, intra uterine conditions and childhood environment would all be greatly influenced by an alcoholic mother.
The second stage of alcoholic development is the induction phase, this is the period in which a psychological attachment to alcohol is developed through a variety of the pleasure giving aspects that alcohol may have for the subject. The next phase is physical dependence, it is characterized by withdrawal, craving, and tremors and often a complete inability to control or curb drinking (Kissin, 1972).
One postulation by researchers and theorists is that there is a distinct psychopathology associated with alcoholism that allows an otherwise non-functional individual to feel secure enough to participate in society. Partanen et. al. (1966) found correlation between emotional instability and the likelihood of developing alcohol abuse problems.
Another theory suggests that alcoholism is a conflict between dependence and interdependence. This idea continues along the same lines submitting that one of the possible reasons for a lower incidence of alcoholism among females is an acceptance of dependency on their part due to societal conditioning (Kissen and Barry, 1972).
Children of alcoholic parents have been found to be 3 to 5 times more likely to themselves become alcoholics (Steen, 1996). This number is influenced by many factors independent of heredity, however the genetic basis for alcoholism is widely believed and studied in hopes of finding a concrete example to better understand and treat the disease. It has been estimated that genetics account for 50- 60 % of the risk for alcoholism (Roebuck and Kessler, 1972).
One significant way that the genetic basis for alcoholism has been demonstrated is with twin studies.
One of the twin studies examined here took place in Finland in 1966 to determine the inheritance of the tendency to use alcoholic beverages. The Finland study consisted only of male twins; both monozygotic and dizygotic pairs were used. These twins had been raised together in most cases and therefore the information given must be considered as having been influenced by environment. The study determined a considerable degree of heritablility in the areas of density and amount of alcohol consumed but saw little correlation in the fields of lack of control or social complications arising from alcohol use (Partanen, et. al., 1966).
These findings suggest that while a propensity for alcoholism is inherited in many cases, the degree to which it affects the life of an individual remains unaffected by biology.
A later twin study, conducted in Sweden and reported in 1987 also studied only male pairs but in this case the twins were adopted into non-relative families at a young age. This split-twin study allowed researchers to determine to a greater extent the importance of environmental exposure in regards to alcoholism. In this study it was found that children who had no history of alcoholism in their .