I inherited my alcoholism — can I drink socially?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on June 14th, 2011 - Last updated: May 9th, 2018
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I find your opinion very, very interesting and extremely controversial. I would love to see you go more public. Why haven’t I seen you on one of the tv news shows like “60 Minutes” and why haven’t I read about you in magazines like Scientific American? Have you approached the media to gain equal time? If not please do all Americans a favor and get more exposure. Thank you.

I have two more questions for you. First, how many diagnosed alcoholics resume drinking successfully, by that I mean moderately? Can you give an educated guess and do you recommend trying it? Also I believe most of our personality is inherited, including the propensity to drink excessively. I have heard of studies of adopted children who became alcoholics, supposedly their biological parents were alcoholic not their adopted parents. And this theory supposedly holds up in reverse. Where the adopted parents were alcoholic and the biological were not, the children did not become alcoholic. I heard this story on a TV program so its accuracy is in question. If heavy drinking is inherited then how could an alcoholic ever drink moderately? I have twenty years of “sobriety” and am rethinking everything I learned in AA. I am really confused and would appreciate your guidance. What bothers me most about not drinking is it makes me stand out, and people always ask questions, which I have always found it hard to respond to. Plus I think a glass of wine with dinner once in a while would be enjoyable. Please let me no how to proceed. Thank you.


Dear Sarah:

It’s true I’m not as famous as I should be, but it’s not for lack of trying.

Your letter if very interesting not so much because of the scientific questions it raises about inheriting alcoholism (for this, see my genetics page, but because of how modish ideas and scientific claims influence the behavior of an individual. Let me just say that even in the most famous study of inheriting alcoholism from biological parents with whom they were not raised (whose validity is now questioned by even those who believe alcoholism is largely inherited, this result did not apply to women, while important subsequent inheritance studies have likewise come up blank with females). So your decision should be based on the personal criteria you seem to be basing it on: (1) what is the best way to proceed in terms of your life and associations, (2) your current values and view of yourself, (3) whether you feel capable of carrying moderate drinking out, a decision you can reverse at any time, and you should feel free to do so, rather than making this some ideological test or abstruse scientific experiment.

Beyond this, data from major government epidemiological study of the course of alcohol dependence, NLAES, found that half of all people diagnosed as alcohol dependent in the U.S. attained problem-free drinking – twice the number who abstain. It takes some people quite a while to do so, and some people (e.g., those who were younger when they were alcohol-dependent) stand a better chance of doing so, but this is an attainable goal for most people who have had a drinking problem.


Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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