Am J Med Genet A 2004 Jul;128A(2):144-50
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.
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.