Genetics of Addiction

Addiction seems to run in families, and researchers are looking more towards genes to understand the link between behavior and genetics. Current research does demonstrate genetics are responsible for about half of the risk of developing an addiction or alcoholism. Other factors, such as your environment, also play a part in your risk.

Multiple genes play a role in a person’s risk of developing a substance use disorder. Some genes increase a person’s risk, as well as those that may decrease that risk. So, different factors can alter the expression of our genes. This field is called epigenetics, and scientists are learning more and more about how epigenetics can affect our risk for addiction or alcoholism.

People may believe that having a genetic predisposition to developing a particular problem means that they will not avoid developing that problem in the future. The situation is much more complicated than that, especially because of the role of epigenetics. However, it is still essential to have that discussion, especially since the people who come from families that struggle with various addictions may even need more support and more resources than other families.

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Genetics and Adult Behavior

Just because you may have a parent or relative with a substance use disorder, do not assume you will automatically have one. People who have strong social support networks are much less likely to develop addictions even when their family situations are considered. It may be true that genetics matter regarding addictive tendencies, and they can be overcome through socialization. We are continually learning about human genetics in general, and the science changes in response to their scientific findings.

Alcoholism and Genetics

Some estimates suggest that around 50 percent of a person’s risk of alcoholism is genetic. However, the truth may be more subtle than that since it is still challenging to identify the exact relationship between alcohol addiction and certain genetic combinations. Many other mental illnesses can raise a person’s risk of getting dependent on alcohol by as much as 50 percent, and various mental illnesses have their own strong genetic components.

Addictions and Families

People in recovery often say they saw a parent or other relative struggle with substance abuse. Children whose parents used substances may begin to use drugs or alcohol, based on observing substance use while growing up. It is also possible that an individual inherits some of the related behaviors from their parents genetically. Both possibilities may also be true since genetic and environmental factors can influence a person’s behavior at different levels. This is often referred to as nature vs. nurture; nature equals the genetic predisposition and nurture refers to environmental influences.

Research does show that if you have a parent who uses drugs or alcohol, you are eight times more vulnerable to developing a substance use disorder. Different genetic factors could directly cause some of that variation. However, most researchers agree that there is a strong environmental component, as well. Given the role of epigenetics in developing human behavioral traits, those environmental variables may even be relevant in a discussion on genetics.

Epigenetics and Alcohol

Epigenetics is a field of study within the broader field of genetics. Researchers are trying to determine if external factors play a role in the activation and deactivation of genes (gene expression). Two people could have some of the same genes or the same combinations of genetics. However, those genes could still be expressed in different ways, which might give both individuals very different behavioral or health outcomes.

Evidence shows people who consume excessive amounts of alcohol during their adolescent years may stunt their neurological development for reasons that relate to epigenetics. Based on their genetics, those individuals may have had very different brain development patterns, and alcohol consumption simply affected those genes’ expression. There is also now evidence that alcohol consumption’s health consequences could also relate to epigenetic factors and not merely to genetic factors. People may even be more likely to crave alcohol products because of epigenetic changes, giving epigenetics a strong role in the nature of drug addiction itself.

Addictive Personalities

One of the other factors involved in the genetics debate is whether or not the genetic predisposition is specifically geared towards drugs. If we figure that factors like early childhood nutrition can influence a person’s height, we can see that a specific gene doesn’t always control everything.

It is possible that genes can make a person more likely to develop an addiction, and some people who grow up specifically become addicted to drugs instead of other things. Those people may have developed a different sort of addiction in a very different household. The people who have addictive personalities may become addicted to work or academic performance, especially if they live in a home that encourages that.

Do you believe that you or a loved one are suffering from a substance use disorder? Talk to our experienced addiction professionals by calling: (844) 978-1524