Kevin Morris 7m 1,056 #alcholism
The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
Many of us experience firsthand the significant impact that stressful jobs can have on us. Unfortunately, this can all too often become the catalyst for turning to substance abuse, with alcohol being one of the most popular choices. While there is often a connection between our career choice and alcoholism, this doesn’t explain the entire story. For some, the issue of alcoholism and career choice reaches all the way down to the molecular level. We should ask then, what role does genetics play in alcoholism and career choice?
Even though many people can maintain their careers and use alcohol without any issue, one out of every 12 adults meets the criteria for alcohol addiction. This translates to 12% of children with at least one parent addicted to alcohol. While there are various subtypes among those who struggle with alcohol addiction, the experience of people who fall into this category has to do with a rewiring of their brains to become dependent on alcohol. This dependency is so strong that if they try to stop using alcohol, the gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain become starved of the supply of alcohol they’ve become dependent on, and this often kicks off a range of withdrawal symptoms. In short, alcoholism is a brain disease that changes how our brain’s chemistry works to process reward.
This might explain some of the body’s inner workings during an alcohol addiction, but it doesn’t answer the question of why this happens to some individuals and not others. So what gives? Is this a personality issue, or does it all come down to genetics? This has been a fascinating topic for many who have tried to understand the statistics behind alcohol addiction.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), genetics can influence our likelihood of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD), with genes being responsible for as much as half of the risk factors associated with AUD. Some of the gene factors include an individual’s rate of alcohol metabolism, natural endorphin production, and GABRA 2, the protein-coding gene that influences GABA receptors. When we add these genetic factors together, they can certainly influence the likelihood of alcohol addiction.
By comparison, men are diagnosed with AUD at a much higher rate than women. Women, however, seem to be more prone to alcoholism’s detrimental health effects. However, the issue is much more complex as there are no “silver bullet” genes that determine if someone will become addicted to alcohol.
Sometimes people can confuse the influence of family history on alcoholism with genetics. While these issues are related, they are not the same thing. Family history can include genetic risk factors, but they also include social influences. Many people who develop AUD had at least one parent who struggled with AUD as well, a statistic that seems to be the highest contributing factor across all ages, races, and genders.
So how does this all relate to career choice? One of the many contributing factors to what kind of career someone chooses goes back to family history. For example, many people who enlist in the military do so because one of their parents or close relatives did as well. Many construction companies and agricultural businesses in America are also family-owned, even carrying the family name as their business. Notably, individuals in these careers rank among the highest alcohol users in the U.S., based on a yearly average. While even binge drinking is not the same as AUD, high alcohol consumption is yet another contributing factor.
This is not to say that everyone in these careers is automatically at risk of developing alcoholism or that alcoholism is not an issue for people who choose a different career path from their families. However, it does bring us back to the issue of genetics and family history. How many people grew up watching their parents deal with a stressful career by turning to alcohol only to mimic the same patterns when they were trying to manage a stressful career? Of course, no one does this voluntarily, but a combination of genes, family history, and a stressful career, added with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from past mental, physical or emotional trauma, could work together to make some of us highly susceptible to alcohol abuse when we find ourselves in a stressful line of work. When this happens, it is described as a dual diagnosis, when mental health issues develop alongside AUD or are at least triggered by it.
It’s important that we not assume that alcoholism has everything to do with genetics, career choice, or even whether our family members struggled with addiction. However, these contributing factors help us see a fuller picture of how much higher our risk is for AUD and how to pick up the pieces to recover from alcohol addiction.
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