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Is Drug and Alcohol Addiction Genetic?

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Many people who deal with a substance use disorder wonder about its origins. The question “Is drug and alcohol addiction genetic?” doesn’t have one simple answer, but genetics definitely can play a part in the development of an addiction. In a Congressional hearing organized by the American Psychological Association, research presented indicated that genetics factor into at least half of a person’s susceptibility to drug addiction. While other factors can come into play, it’s impossible to ignore such a high probability of genetics contributing to addiction.

Understanding Genetics and Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Genes are defined as functional units of DNA that make up the human genome. The average DNA sequence of any two people shares a 99.9% commonality. While the 0.1% difference may seem minuscule, it totals three million differences. The variations can include physical attributes such as hair and eye color. These variants can also contribute to susceptibility for developing certain illnesses or even a tendency to favor a certain pattern of behavior.

The DNA variations in that 0.1% can also relate to a person’s risk for developing certain diseases, including addiction. Family studies done that included siblings showed that regardless of specific relationships to each other, about half of a person’s risk of becoming a drug or alcohol addict resided in their genetics. These studies included fraternal and identical twins, other siblings, and adopted children. 

Studies like these shine a spotlight on the importance of continued research into genetics as they relate to addiction. While many physicians admit to finding it difficult to interpret genetic testing, many within the scientific and medical community believe an increased understanding of this type of testing will ultimately contribute to future advances.

Even outside the realm of illegal drugs, studies point to the effect of genetics on addiction to nicotine products. Caryn Lerman, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania states that genetics come into play with addiction to tobacco. She states that about 60% of an individual’s tendency to begin smoking and 54% of their ability to quit smoking tie into genetic causes. 

Genetics and Mental Health Disorders in Relation to Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Approximately half of the people who struggle with a substance use disorder also have at least one mental health issue in play, too. The scientific community reports that many psychiatric disorders run in families. These include:

  • Autism
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Depression
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Schizophrenia

This fact doubles down on the importance of continued studies to help flesh out the answers to if drug and alcohol addiction is genetic. Patients who present with both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder can benefit from early recognition of their conditions. Advanced genetic testing may even help predict the likelihood of a person developing these conditions before they take place.

Other Causes of Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Even when drug and alcohol addiction is genetic to some degree, other factors may come into play. The environment a person grew up in or currently lives in can contribute greatly to their tendency to develop an addiction. Kids who find themselves among family members who rely on drugs and alcohol often end up mimicking this pattern.

Children raised in a home with at least one parent with a substance use disorder are much more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to the point of addiction. Children of alcoholics are four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves. This contributes to the fact that some families count at least one drug or alcohol addict in each generation.

Peer pressure can also lead younger people to experiment with drugs and alcohol. What starts off as teenagers and young adults pushing some boundaries can quickly turn into drug and alcohol abuse. Children who experience a traumatic event growing up may also turn to addictive behaviors in order to try to cope with overwhelming emotions.

Treatment Helps Addiction Related to Both Genetics and Environment 

A person may be able to point to the environment they or someone they loved was raised in as contributing to developing an addiction. Others may feel genetics are largely to blame. For many, both reasons fit them personally. It’s important to remember that even if a person has a genetic predisposition to addiction, it does not mean they are doomed to develop it. Similarly, a person raised by a parent who is an addict will not necessarily follow in their footsteps.

A person concerned that they may have developed a substance use disorder can make an appointment with a physician or licensed counselor to receive a full diagnosis. When treatment is deemed necessary, many residential, outpatient, and sober living housing options exist. In each case, a full discussion about how an addiction began serves two purposes: educating the patient and assisting the clinicians in formulating a treatment plan. 

Treatment for Addiction in Texas

If you are facing an addiction to drugs or alcohol, Purpose Driven Recovery can help you accomplish your goals. We provide gender-specific sober living houses with round-the-clock management. We connect you with therapy and sober coaching while you learn to embrace your new sober life among your peers.  

Contact Purpose Driven Recovery by calling us at (713) 266-1507 or click here to email us. 

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