Are children of alcoholics more likely to get addicted to something non-alcoholic?

My father was an alcoholic and so was most of his family. I don’t particularly like alcohol, but I have a tendency to get addicted to things rather easily, from certain foods to certain websites (ahem), though nothing has progressed to the point of needing outside help.

Are the two things related? Did I inherit a tendency toward being addicted to something from my dad?

That is a complicated question that might take a book or three to answer. Bipolar disorder runs in my family and I have it (but successfully treated believe it or not). Bipolar people tend to have an addictive personality many times the rate of the general population and a very high rate of suicide. The addiction rate of bipolar people tends to be about 9 times the norm of the general population but some studies suggest it is much higher. The addiction tends to be alcohol related but it expands to most other addictive drugs as well.

They diagnose bipolar disorder earlier and earlier these days. My 6 year old daughter is already showing signs so we are enrolling her in the best study we can find at Mass General Boston to figure out what we can do. I know personally it is a rough road for a while.

That is just one disorder but it gives a definitive yes at least for some people.

Some addictive traits are also sex linked although no one has a full understanding of this. All males in my immediate (genetic) family on both sides are alcoholics or recovering alcoholics. The two females on both sides got away from this including my mother. My under-grad and grad school work was in behavioral neuroscience and psychopharmacology . A common question in a new class was “What defines addiction?”. Every student gives it their best and always fails because the professor can easily give an example of why the answer is false. No one really knows except for the stats that are given but that doesn’t tell us why.

Shagnasty can explain this a lot better than I can, but you might want to read up on the concept of reward deficiency syndrome, which is sort of a “unified field theory” of all our lesser psychopathologies, including substance abuse, OCD, anxiety disorders, ADHD, and compulsive gambling, among others. It’s very possible that these seemingly distinct disorders all share a common final pathway. Really interesting stuff.

Thanks for the answers. I should have known it was a more complicated question than I was giving it credit for.

Speaking as a child of alcoholics, I have no addiction besides cigarettes and coffee. But thats just me.

Yeah, but those are biggies, especially the smokes*! Blast if I can find it right now, but there was a recent thread where points were made about nicotine addiction being harder to overcome than heroin and others.

*former smoker here…it still sucks!

As an alcoholic who was born into a family without any, I cannot be sure. Then again, I married an alcoholic, and I am desperately afraid for our kids.

I believe that in my case, alcoholism was congenital (I was born with it) but not necessarily inherited (neither parents nor grandparents are/were alcoholic, nor are their siblings or mine).

I am wary of using the word “addicted” to describe behaviors other than drugs. I think it is overused and often used incorrectly.

YMMV, of course.

Oh, is that all? :wink:
Yeah, nicotene is a biggie. I quit drinking from every day to none at all with no trouble at all. Then I quit smoking pot when it might have cost me my job. I’ll go back to that when I retire in a couple years, but it was no real trouble to stop. Then a few years ago I tried for about the tenth time to quit cigarettes. Boy oh boy, that one tried my resolve. I went the Welbutrin plus meeting route and finally did it, and I’m okay now.
So, I think you’ll not know if something will be addictive to you until you use it , then try to stop.
Coffee’s good for you. :cool:

My father was an alcoholic and with two kids in my family my sister is as well. My family physician has told me the odds are about 50% that a child of an alcoholic will become one. The liquor destroyed my father who died way before his time along with my mother and I who had to live our lives dealing with someone who was drunk almost every day for 15 years. My sister has carried on the family tradition with a vengeance and is destroying what is left of my family. I hate alcohol with a passion no one could believe.

I am completely afraid of this as well. My oldest daughter at age 6 is causing worry for everyone even though she is beautiful and gifted in many ways. We have to watch her for addictive traits and behavior. My youngest daughter, at age two, shows no signs yet. I never wanted a son at all because I know what would probably happen. I was lucky enough to get daughters but even that doesn’t ensure a successful outcome. I know it is hard to be a parent and worry what your children may be up against in the future.

Do you really think you can stop her from being an addict if that disease is in her makeup?

My daughters know where to get help, and what works and doesn’t work in terms of ‘controlling’ addictions, having grown up in a recovery-based household. But while I have shown them that a way out exists, I don’t believe I can prevent them from going down that road to begin with. I can recommend abstinence, but they’ll make their own choices.

My 9 year old acts (and seems to feel) just like I did as a kid, which is a bad sign. I was smart, cute, and had everything on the outside, but suffered from cripplingly bad self-esteem on the inside. I remember distinctly feeling “less than” the other kids on the playground at age 5. :eek:

We hope like hell we can give him enough support that he doesn’t have to travel the exact same road we did…

I have read that such young children can become true alcoholics. I hope that if this is so in your family’s case you can get, and be, good support. Good luck to you and your family, and maybe it won’t happen. I don’t pray, but I will hold you all in my heart.


I was warned about alcoholism and substance abuse since childhood because of our family history. I promised myself that it would never happen to me and yet it did. The first signs were in college when we played drinking games and I would always win. My friends gave me a 3:1 handicap and I still won which was easily over a case of beer in the evening and I was still the designated driver. My wife does not understand it and most people don’t. I don’t know how to stop it. I worry about my daughters . They are bred for it and the consequences are horrible but I hope they escape.

If you follow the rules that they are bred for it, then by rights I should be an alcoholic, because my brother was. We’ve got the same parents, the same upbringing. I escaped it. Your daughters aren’t doomed, especially not if there is strong family support there for them and a culture of honesty. If I ever get to have children, I will be as honest with them as possible about the family history and encourage them to talk to me - it sounds like you’ve already done that. Best wishes.

Same thing for me- I am an alcoholic, my brother and parents are not. However, I married one, so the odds have probably gone up… :frowning: