The Curse of the Irish | Learn About the Irish Alcoholism Gene

The Curse of the Irish and the Celtic curse are both deeply rooted in an Irishman’s genes. The Irish have an ancestral predisposition towards the development of hemochromatosis and alcohol dependency.

Irish and Alcoholism/Ireland and Alcoholism

When people think of Ireland they typically think of lush green rolling hills, ancient castles, pints of frothy Guinness, and pubs full of life. Alcohol plays a significant role in Irish life. The Irish even have a term for whiskey, Uisce Beatha which literally means “blessed water.” Pubs are the lifeblood of Ireland and serve as vibrant social centers. However, there is a darker and less pleasant side to the beautiful, Emerald Isle.

There is a custom in Irish pubs called “treating” or “standing your ground.” This means that if five people enter the pub together each person buys a round of drinks for everyone and therefore ends up consuming five drinks. This custom often results in people drinking more alcohol, often resulting in binge drinking, to avoid being labeled as “not standing.”

Irish alcoholism is a major health problem. According to the Healthy Ireland Survey in 2015, 76 percent of the Irish population drink alcohol, with 53 percent of those who drink doing so at least weekly. Almost 4 out of 10 drinkers or 39 percent of those who drink alcohol, binge drink on a typical drinking occasion. A report from the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that Ireland has the second-highest rate of binge drinking in the world. Binge drinking is consuming 6 or more standard drinks on one drinking occasion. Of Ireland’s population, 53 percent of males and 25.5 percent of females reported heavy drinking episodes. With drinking alcohol being such a huge part of Irish culture, many Irish people suffer from the Curse of the Irish and the Celtic Curse.

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The Curse of the Irish

What is the Irish curse? It has to do with the fact that Irish people tend to be predisposed to becoming addicted to alcohol because of their genes. According to an article published in Alcohol Research and Health, genes contribute to the development of alcohol dependence with heritability being between 50 to 60 percent for both men and women. However, it is important to note that genetic differences affect risk, but there is no Irish alcoholism gene. Both environmental and social factors contribute to whether or not a person will become addicted and dependent on alcohol.

Alcohol dependence (alcoholism) is the most severe alcohol disorder and has been found to run in families. Genetic factors influence a person’s risk of becoming dependent on alcohol as well as the amount of alcohol a person drinks and the risk for alcohol-related diseases such as gastrointestinal cancers. The genes that seem to have the clearest contribution to developing alcoholism and desire to drink alcohol are GABRA2 and CHRM2. These two genes play a major role in the metabolism of alcohol and result in an increased risk of developing alcohol dependence.

The Celtic Curse

Hemochromatosis, also known in Ireland as the Celtic Curse, is a genetic disorder that causes a person to have way too much iron in their body. When a person eats foods containing iron, whatever their body can not process gets stored in their liver, heart, and pancreas. This can result in life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and heart problems. The genes that cause this disease are inherited and are often found from Celtic origins.

The name “Celtic curse” or “Celtic disease” comes from the fact that it is most commonly found in Celtic Nations such as Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man, Cornwall, and Brittany. The only way to get this gene is if it passed down by both the mother and the father. In Ireland, 1 in 83 people suffer from this condition. Also, 1 in 5 Irish people carry this gene and have the potential to pass it down to the next generation.

Symptoms of the Celtic Curse include abdominal pain, heart failure, liver failure, joint pain, fatigue, weakness, diabetes, memory fog, and bronze or gray color skin. This disease is treatable with blood removal because it reduces a person’s iron levels to normal.

One form of a lifestyle change that can help a person overcome the Celtic curse is avoiding alcohol because it increases the risk of liver damage on top of iron poisoning. The avoidance of alcohol could be the reason it is called the Celtic curse. The Irish tend to better metabolize alcohol because of their genes, but their genes could also plague them with a disease that makes them not be able to drink without experiencing harmful consequences. With drinking being a major part of their culture for social reasons, it is no wonder it is called a curse.

Ancestral Predispositions

Hemochromatosis can be found in any culture, even America because America is the melting pot of immigrants from all over the world. However it is much more common among the Irish in Ireland. The Irish have genetic predispositions that make them more likely to experience the disease. Scientists are not sure why the Irish are more prevalent in carrying this gene, but it is believed that the gene mutated 50 generations ago, around 900 AD.

Genetic predisposition has a lot to do with ancestry geographic origin. Way back before people settled in their countries, genetic mutations could have easily passed to one group of people. If that group of people moved and multiplied with other groups, that gene would be less prevalent. However, if that group of people moved to one place, like Ireland and multiplied, the gene would be extremely prevalent among that population. Historically, a large number of Celtic people moved to Ireland. This potentially did not allow the mutated gene to dissipate, which could make hemochromatosis as well as the genes that result in alcohol dependence so prevalent in Ireland.

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Finding A Rehab Center (Irish rehab)

Even though the Irish people are more predisposed to become addicted to alcohol, they are not the only people that this can happen to. It can happen to anyone, at any time, and at any place. The curse of the Irishman is not something to fear if you have it or are predisposed to it. If you or someone you love is suffering from alcohol addiction or dependency, finding a high-quality rehab can help. Rehabilitation clinics are well equipped to provide a person with all the support, medications, and therapy necessary to overcome their addiction and get back to an alcohol-free life.


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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