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February 1985

Alcoholism and GeneticsThe Sins of the Fathers

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Psychiatry, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1985;42(2):171-174. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1985.01790250065008

Alcoholism runs in families. It was alluded to in the Bible, Aristotle and Plutarch remarked about it, and doctors and preachers of the 19th century were unanimous: alcoholism ran in families and was inherited.2

In those days everything that ran in families was inherited. Perhaps not speaking French or voting Republican, but certainly talents and weaknesses were inherited. Alcoholism was clearly a weakness, or vice, or both.

The inheritance was Lamarckian. If the mother took piano lessons, the child might have a musical talent. If the father drank, the sons might be drunkards.

By the last quarter of the 20th century this ancient piece of conventional wisdom had scientific underpinnings. Drunkard parents did indeed have drunkard children. They had them about four or five times more often than did parents who were not alcoholic. Someone counted more than 100 studies in the literature

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