Is an alcohol problem genetic or a learned behaviour? In this episode, Chip and Veronica discuss how drinking is modeled in families and how kids develop a relationship with alcohol, based on their parenting.
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Alcoholism and alcohol dependency: Is it genetic? Is it learned behaviour?
There’s a lot that we can say about how the relationship with alcohol passes down from generation to generation and it’s not limited to your genes.
Growing up with caregivers who have a poor relationship with alcohol, the issues don’t only stem from the chaos of addiction. The fact is that once excessive alcohol consumption is involved, emotional instability will be there too. That aspect in and of itself has lasting consequences.
The best example I’ve seen of the effect of intergenerational drinking are twin brothers I met early in recovery while I still lived in the UK. Growing up, the pub was like their second home. It was where their family gathered, everyone in the family drank and got drunk.
It felt like a family tradition. Drinking was this magical thing their family loved and that took up a lot of their family’s attention. Naturally, growing up they couldn’t wait to join the club so they could be closer to their family.
What is interesting about their story is, the cost and consequences of drinking were given the context of “That’s just what happens. No big deal.” When they were old enough, they started doing the family thing and they struggled. They struggled with education, with jobs, and eventually decided to get sober.
Luckily, they had each other because that left them with a very difficult relationship with their family because neither side gets the other.
When I think about it, whether or not they have a genetic predisposition to alcohol use disorders, their experiences growing up made it next to impossible for them to avoid it.
And as we are in the midst of the holiday season, the conversation with our parents about our sobriety is something lots of us dread.
But why should that be a difficult thing to tell your parents?
It’s an extraordinary statement that your parents are going to be upset because you’ve decided to stop doing something that has no health benefits whatsoever.
If it’s a problem that you’re not drinking, then that says something about the attitude to alcohol in the family.
It doesn’t take a lot of alcohol to put a barrier between you and your children. You don’t have to be a fall-down-drunk to be emotionally distanced, as both Chip and I experienced with our parents. You can still be emotionally unavailable and that’s the thing that really does the damage.
That’s why we believe the focus should be more on the impact of alcohol on children and how we can make that better.
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