Inheriting Alcoholism

Inheriting Alcoholism

Q. My father is an alcoholic. Although I don’t drink, I began four months ago to experience anxiety, difficulty relaxing, loss of appetite, insomnia and constant worry about trivial events. Since I stopped smoking at that time, I wondered if these symptoms might be due to nicotine withdrawal. I know that alcoholism can be hereditary, and I am having persistent and reoccurring thoughts that I am alcoholic like my father, and that I must drink like him. These thoughts make me very anxious and upset, and have driven me to throw out all my husband’s alcohol and avoid social situations where alcohol might be present. Do you think I have OCD, or am I actually an alcoholic?
A. I think you are worrying unnecessarily about being an alcoholic, but may have some depressive and obsessive-compulsive symptoms that could benefit from treatment.

First of all, no one has demonstrated that alcoholism is “genetic”–certainly not in the way that having blue eyes or blond hair is genetic. There is some fairly strong evidence of a genetic influence at work in the male offspring of alcoholic fathers–but even this is not a certainty, and there are many sons of alcoholic fathers who do not develop alcohol abuse or dependence (better terms than “alcoholism”). Daughters of alcoholic mothers may also be at higher risk than the general public, but you don’t seem to fit that situation.

The signs and symptoms you described–loss of appetite, insomnia, anxiety, constant worry–could have been due in part to nicotine withdrawal, but since they are still present, other possibilities need to be considered. I’d suggest a complete physical examination with basic blood tests, including thyroid function. If there are no abnormalities but you continue to “obsess” about the issue of being alcoholic, I recommend you see a mental health professional. If you are diagnosed with either major depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder there are excellent treatments available, including both cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication. OCD is particularly responsive to “SSRI” type medications like Prozac or Zoloft (which also work for depression). These are usually prescribed and monitored by a psychiatrist, but you could initially see any mental health professional (psychologist, psychiatric social worker). Good luck, and I hope you are able to begin moving forward with your life.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

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