Is Addiction Hereditary? Understanding the Genetics Behind Substance Use Disorder

genetics behind addiction

Is Addiction Hereditary? Understanding the Genetics Behind Substance Use Disorder

Unfortunately, it is extremely common to see families with multiple people who struggle with addictive behaviors. This leads many people to ask whether or not addiction is hereditary. After research and countless studies, the American Psychological Association (APA) has found that “at least half of a person’s susceptibility to drug or alcohol addiction can be linked to genetic factors”.[1]

While genetics play a major role in someone’s susceptibility to addiction, it is only half of the equation. Even if an individual has a genetic predisposition for addiction, they may never develop issues with substance abuse. On the other hand, someone who has no family history of addiction may find themselves struggling with an addiction. Susceptibility to addiction only means that an individual is at a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder if they are exposed to certain risk factors.

Let’s take a look at the risk factors for addiction and the genetics behind substance use disorder.

What is the Disease of Addiction?

Addiction is described as a treatable, but chronic medical disease that involves complex interactions in the brain. An individual’s genetics, environment, brain circuits, and life experiences all play a role in the development of addiction. When a person suffers from substance use disorder, they begin to engage in compulsive behaviors and continue to despite facing negative consequences in all aspects of their life.

Substance use disorders cause a range of psychological, physical, and social effects that tend to have a drastic effect on an individual’s quality of life. Unfortunately, due to the powerful cravings associated with addiction, many individuals cannot stop partaking in addictive behavior despite wanting to stop. As a result, addiction must be treated by professionals with extensive experience in the field.

Risk Factors for Addiction

When discussing the importance of genetics regarding the development of addiction, it’s important to understand all of the contributing risk factors to substance abuse. There are three main categories of risk factors to be aware of, such as biological, environmental, and trauma.

When it comes to a genetic predisposition to addiction, that will count for 40-60% of an individual’s risk of developing a substance use disorder. This suggests that addiction is partially hereditary. Keeping that in mind, many other things contribute to the development of addiction. For example, individuals who have pre-existing mental health conditions are at a higher risk of becoming addicted to a substance.[2]

Common risk factors of developing an addiction include the following:

  • Having impulsive tendencies
  • Being a nonconformist
  • Impairment of metabolic, physiological, pr psychological processes
  • Being exposed to substance abuse as a child
  • Peer pressure as a child or teen
  • Lack of supervision in younger years
  • The desire to fit in paired with inadequate social skills
  • Living in poverty
  • Experiencing trauma of any form

Looking at the list of risk factors for addiction, it is obvious that one’s genetics is only one piece of a larger picture. In other words, no one factor causes someone to develop an addiction. Instead, a combination of genetics, environmental influences, and experiences of trauma work together to create the perfect storm.

How Genetics Play a Part in the Development of Addiction

The structure of an individual’s genes plays a part in an array of things like eye color, behavior, and one’s predispositions to physical and mental health conditions. Unfortunately, a mother or father could pass genes to their child that include a predisposition to substance abuse. However, genes are not the end-all-be-all when it comes to developing an addiction.

Individuals with a predisposition to substance use disorder must also have behavioral factors, environmental risks, or have experienced trauma to develop an addiction. For example, someone with a genetic predisposition to addiction who has impulsive behaviors is at a high risk of struggling with addiction.[3]

Additionally, individuals without a genetic predisposition to addiction may begin to abuse substances if they face certain risk factors throughout their life. To explain, an individual without a predisposition to addiction, who struggles with a mental health condition and has experienced trauma, is at high risk of developing an addiction.

Overall, genetics can play a large role in an individual’s development of addiction. However, a person can overcome their predisposition, so addiction is not always hereditary. Similarly, people without a predisposition to substance use disorder could develop an addiction if they lack the proper coping mechanisms to deal with hardships they face in their lives.

Preventing Addiction When it Runs in the Family

Individuals with a genetic predisposition to addiction should be cautious when it comes to consuming drugs and alcohol. When addiction runs in someone’s family, they should avoid drinking or using drugs to cope with uncomfortable feelings like stress or sadness. For example, drinking at a celebration is fine, but drinking to cope with a difficult breakup is not.

If an individual knows addiction runs in their family, they should take the following preventative measures:

  • Researching family history
  • Drink for celebratory reasons, rather than using it as a coping mechanism
  • Notify healthcare providers of family history
  • Develop healthy coping mechanisms
  • Go to therapy before problems arise
  • Tell your spouse or long-term partner about your family history

Genetic predispositions to addictions are not life sentences. When individuals take the initiative to develop healthy habits and monitor their motives for using substances, they can prevent addiction from occurring.

Find Treatment for Addiction Today

Addiction is a chronic and treatable brain disease. Individuals who are struggling with substance abuse issues should seek professional help to prevent their addiction from progressing further.

Addiction treatment centers like Florida Recovery Group utilize a combination of evidence-based therapies, group counseling, and medication management to help patients recover from addiction. By providing a full continuum of care, Florida Recovery Group ensures that every patient is provided with a strong foundation for recovery. Contact us today to get started.