• Article

Genetics and alcoholism among at-risk relatives I Perceptions of cause, risk, and control

Genetic factors influence a person's risk for developing alcoholism. In other common disorders with a genetic component, a belief in a genetic cause can lead to less perceived control or fatalism among those at risk that may adversely affect undertaking health-promoting behaviors. This study explores beliefs about the cause of alcoholism and risk perception among individuals with affected relatives. In-depth interviews including both open-ended questions and several quantitative measures were conducted with participants to explore the relationships between causal beliefs and perceptions of personal risk and control. Twenty-seven individuals with at least one first-degree relative affected with alcoholism participated. Transcript analysis of interviews revealed that all participants attribute multiple factors to the cause of alcoholism in their families, often as a combination of biological, genetic, environmental factors, and personal characteristics. Many perceived themselves as being 'at-risk,' and this concern often stemmed from a belief in a genetic or biological cause of alcoholism. However, participants also had a strong sense of personal control, rooted in beliefs about environmental causes or personal characteristics influencing alcoholism risk. A participant's strong belief in a genetic cause was associated with a significantly increased risk perception, but not a fatalistic outlook towards developing alcoholism.


Gamm, J. L., Nussbaum, R. L., & Biesecker, B. B. (2004). Genetics and alcoholism among at-risk relatives I: Perceptions of cause, risk, and control. American Journal of Medical Genetics. Part A, 128A(2), 144-50. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajmg.a.30082

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