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Can a Person be Genetically Predisposed to Addiction?

What is Genetics?


Genetics is the science that studies genes and obtains information regarding which traits are passed on from parents to children. Genes are essentially heritable structures. They are made up of various DNA arrangements on chromosomes. There are supposed to be about 20,000 DNA arrangements on the human chromosome.


People inherit genes from their parents, which determine their key characteristics, such as physical features (eye color and hair). But, beyond that, genes can also control/influence people’s health, personality traits, and even addictive behaviors.



Is Addiction Genetic?


Like several chronic health issues, addiction also comes with a hereditary factor, which may run in the family. While anyone may develop a habit, studies tell us that about 60% of your addiction risk originates in your genetic makeup.


Upon interaction with other factors like individual personality and environment, a person’s genetic predisposition can affect their health. For example, if you have a parent, sibling, or grandparent who suffered from addiction, you may also share a higher affinity toward addiction development.


The research to better understand what makes certain people more susceptible to addiction than others is ongoing. But, the link between family history, genes, and addiction is clear and strong.


Role of Genes in Specific addictions


Genes and Alcoholism


There’s no ‘alcoholism gene’ that people carry, and multiple factors affect the development of alcohol use disorder. There’s a strong link between genes and alcoholism which should explain why some people are more vulnerable to it than others.


For instance, a NIDA-funded study examined a database of about 1.3 million people to establish the relationship between addiction behaviors and genes. It specifically looked at alcohol and nicotine usage.


The study found about 400 different locations within the genome, along with 566 variations within those locations that significantly impact alcohol and nicotine usage. Scientists believe that these genome locations influence the functioning of various chemicals, including dopamine.


A person’s susceptibility to AUD may be higher if they share a first-degree relative with alcoholism (siblings or parents). Research also found a correlation between second and third-degree relatives like uncles, aunts, and grandparents. Therefore, most addiction treatment centers begin with an assessment of family history to devise the best addiction treatment program.



Cocaine Addiction


Cocaine addiction links strongly to a person’s genes. The addiction carries a likely estimated heritability of about 65-79%. Several genes together may control and contribute to cocaine addiction.


Can a Person be Predisposed to Addiction?


Yes, many people may be genetically predisposed to suffer from substance abuse more than others. According to APA, “About half of the person’s susceptibility to alcohol and drug addiction links to genetic factors.”


However, as important as it is to understand the role of genetic predisposition, it’s just as important to know the other half of the equation. It will better help to ascertain a person’s risk for addiction.


Ways to Fight a Genetic Predisposition to Addiction


Despite the clear link between addiction and genetics, it’s possible to overcome this risk factor. It’s possible to fight this predisposition to substance abuse with a healthy diet, stress management skills, proper communication, and the right environment.


Healthy Coping Skills – We all go through difficulties in life. But knowing how to handle those difficult situations is the key, especially if you come from a family with a history of addiction. Remember, only 40-60% of addiction is genetic. About 50% of risk comes from poor coping skills and an inability to manage stress.


Practice coping skills to better adapt to sudden changes, lower anxiety and depression, and overcome challenges. Indulge in self-care routines, practice meditation, deep breathing, journaling, and mindfulness. Also, try developing some fun hobbies.


Stress Management – Stress is a huge trigger for substance abuse. Therefore, keeping stress levels at bay can prevent you from resorting to drugs and alcohol to escape or relieve stress. Some tried and tested ways to manage stress are – exercising, laughing, journaling, music therapy, muscle relaxation, walking, guided imagery, aromatherapy, and talking to supporting people.

How To Understand & Recognize the Struggles of Addiction?


Here are some ways to understand reduce, and previous substance abuse –


  • Provide non-stigmatizing and accurate information on addiction and mental health issues
  • Consider enrolling your elderly into retirement centers for elderly with mental health issues if that’s what’s fueling the addiction.
  • Offer preventive education
  • Try to identify the problem early on and seek the necessary mental health service.
  • Try engaging in fun hobbies.
  • Avoid unhealthy environments where drug and alcohol use is prevalent.
  • Practice abstinence
  • Work with a therapist if you suffer from substance abuse.
  • Join support groups to find inspiration on overcoming addiction challenges
  • Understand how the addiction started in your family and consciously avoid falling into similar patterns/situations to break the cycle.


Bottom Line


Genetics may strongly influence a person’s dependency on drugs and alcohol. And while addiction may run in families – it’s crucial to remember that it’s not inevitable.


Just because you share a sibling or a parent with addiction doesn’t mean you also have to repeat their mistakes. Sure, it may leave you more susceptible to the issue, so you must exercise extra caution.


Please educate yourself on how addiction works and learn its signs. With the right strategy, precautions, and a progressive mindset – there’s no reason why you should be doomed to repeat your family’s mistakes. And, when all else fails – know that expert help is always available. Talk to your doctor, therapist, or counselor to seek help with addiction.