Substance use disorders, like mental health disorders, are complex conditions that rarely have a single cause. Typically, there are numerous variables that contribute to the onset of a drug or alcohol addiction. In this article, we’ll look specifically at one of these factors: genetics.
The genes you inherit from your parents (that they inherited from their parents, and so on) can have a big impact on many aspects of your being. Genes influence personality, appearance, intellectual ability and so forth. While there isn’t a single gene that works like a switch, either ensuring a substance use disorder or ensuring that you’ll never face one, there are many genetic traits that can be linked with increased susceptibility to addiction.
The causes of addiction
Just because your parents abused alcohol or drugs doesn’t mean that you’re fated to experience the same thing. Moreover, just because your parents were sober their whole lives doesn’t guarantee you’ll never struggle with addiction. While genes are no assurance of your relationship to drugs or alcohol, they do play a role in your likelihood of facing a substance use disorder.
In addition to genetics, there are several other potential causes of addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that environment and development can also greatly increase or decrease the likelihood of addiction. The environment includes factors like the neighborhood a person grew up in and economic security. Other environmental factors include peer pressure, early exposure to substances and stress.
The development includes variables that occur at different ages, affecting a person’s social, emotional and cognitive development. A child who experiences neglect or abuse at an early age may be more prone to substance abuse. Additionally, teens are susceptible to addiction due to underdeveloped self-control and decision-making capacities.
The genetics of addiction
While environment and development do factor into the onset of addiction, genetics may be a stronger influence. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that family studies that include twins, adoptees and siblings indicate that as much as 50 percent of a person’s risk for addiction depends on genetic makeup.
Genetics not only influence the likelihood of addiction, but they also influence the effectiveness of treatment. For example, people often respond differently to medications. Whether a medication is effective can be influenced by a person’s metabolism. These chemical reactions are based on a person’s parents’ metabolisms, rendering some medications helpful and others fruitless.
The influence of addiction on children is especially pertinent to researchers. A study in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry found that children of adults with former substance use problems have a risk of developing an addiction that is eight times greater than that of children with non-addicted parents.
Additionally, this can be due to children growing up and seeing addictive tendencies and behaviors from their parents, making them more likely to perform the same behaviors.
Protecting yourself against addiction
While many risk factors are out of a person’s control, there are also ways you can actively work to prevent a substance use disorder for yourself or someone in your family.
1. Learn your family history
Understanding whether your blood relatives struggled with alcohol abuse could help you understand your own susceptibility. Since genetics are passed on only through biological family members, you may want to reach out to your family if you were adopted or check with your spouse’s family if you’re worried about addictive behaviors.
Once you’re aware of your family’s history of substance use, you can take more strict measures to ensure it doesn’t become an issue in the future. Consider abstaining from alcohol completely and living an active lifestyle to keep substance use at bay.
2. Understand triggers to addiction
If you are predisposed to addiction genetically, it is helpful to know potential stressors that could result in experimenting with drugs for the first time. For example, you may choose to avoid parties with substances, refrain from taking prescription opioids after surgery (and opt for a more mild painkiller) or meet with a therapist regularly.
3. Look out for warning signs of addiction
Sometimes people dismiss substance use as casual use and may be unaware when their behavior escalates into a full-fledged addiction. Especially with alcohol, an individual may feel that a single drink after work helps take the edge off, and slowly starts drinking more and more without recognizing the impact.
Warning signs of addiction include the following, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Feeling the need to use the drug regularly, as much as every day or several times a day
- Needing more and more of the substance to feel the same effects
- Hiding substance use behaviors
- Having uncontrollable thoughts about your next use
- Having intense physical and mental urges to use the substance
- Continuing to use the substance even though it causes problems in relationships, work and daily life
- Attempting to stop using the substance and being unable to
- Doing things you wouldn’t normally do when under the influence of the drug
If you’re worried that you or a loved one has fallen into an addiction to drugs or alcohol, these signs can offer you objective criteria so you know when to intervene.
4. Learn about local resources and treatment
If you’re worried about a potential addiction based on a family history of addiction, there are prevention programs you can look into. While many of these programs are designed for youth, there are also resources for those who are at risk of developing a substance use disorder, and well as support groups for family members.
If you or someone in your family is currently facing a substance use disorder, full healing is possible. Seeing a loved one struggle with a drug or alcohol dependency can feel hopeless, but no person is too far gone for treatment to be effective.
Life-long sobriety is possible for any person, regardless of the genetics of addiction or starting use at a young age. Personalized treatment greatly enhances a person’s chances of success and can help you heal the root of a substance use problem, whether it stems from family conflict, trauma, genes, environmental factors or a combination of these.
Make recovery your own with Silvermist Recovery. At Silvermist you’ll receive the support and tools you need to thrive in sobriety through evidence-based and holistic treatment. Contact us today to learn more.