It has long been debated whether or not addiction is hereditary.
The “nature versus nurture” argument has circulated for years with many questioning why some people get addicted to drugs and alcohol while others do not. Although the term “nurture” does not necessarily apply to adults who live apart from their families, it can be used to describe the environmental factors that influence the development of addiction. This may include the way an individual was raised, socioeconomic status, peer pressure, and other influences.
Numerous studies have explored the influence of genetics on addiction. Many have concluded that genetics play a significant role in the probability of addiction developing. While there is no gene that is specifically responsible for addiction, numerous genes are impacted by substance abuse and can also make someone more like to develop an addiction in turn. While this predisposition does not equal an unavoidable destiny, numerous studies do show that family history can make someone more likely to become addicted.
The Genetic Makeup of Addiction
Studies show that addiction can be attributed to genetic predisposition and poor coping skills. The two are equally influential, both contributing 50 percent to predisposition. Additionally, children of an addict are eight times more likely to develop an addiction themselves. While family history plays a role in any type of addiction, it tends to be more influential in regards to specific substances. For example, addiction to cocaine or heroin appears to be more influenced by genetics than alcoholism or marijuana use; however, genetics can cause side effects that make a person more prone to addiction.
Some genetic factors may cause a person to be less likely to experience a hangover after consuming large amounts of alcohol, while others may cause a person to experience a large surge of dopamine when drinking alcohol. These genetic factors can put some individuals at greater risk for developing dependencies on alcohol, but not necessarily other substances. Other genetic factors can make individuals more likely to develop addictions in general. Those who are predisposed to engage in more thrill-seeking or risk-taking behaviors may be more likely to use drugs or alcohol. These behaviors can trigger large spikes of dopamine, which may cause individuals to return to pleasurable activities regardless of the potential harmful side effects.
Although genetics play a substantial role in the development of addiction, family history does not predetermine whether or not a person will become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Other influences and factors can play contributing roles in the development of addiction.
The Influence of Environment
Environment also plays a significant role in the development of addiction. Those who grow up in homes where substance abuse is normalized, those who spend time with peers who frequently abuse substances, and those who are unable to deal with stressors often rely on substances to self-medicate. Environment plays an equally large role in the development of addiction but is able to be manipulated to reduce risk factors.
While genetics and family history are outside of a person’s control, individuals do have some control over their environments and external influences. Surrounding oneself with enabling peers and failing to develop healthy coping mechanisms can put individuals at risk for substance abuse. In order to combat these influences, individuals must actively change their social environment and develop healthy outlets and methods of coping with stressful situations and negative emotions.
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Genetics and Environment
While the influence of genetic predisposition and environment are impactful on their own, a combination of the two can put many at risk for developing dependencies and addiction later in life. Family history of addiction can increase a person’s predisposition to any type of addiction, regardless of the substance, and the presence of one addiction increases the likelihood of other addictions developing.
Addiction is a disease that takes many forms and requires treatment to overcome. It is not a matter of “being strong” and “asserting self-control.” In order to effectively address addiction, it is important to understand one’s family history and remove oneself from enabling environments. Although it may be difficult to discuss family history of substance abuse, it is critical in preventing substance abuse and in understanding one’s needs in recovery. Even if one is genetically predisposed to addiction, developing healthy coping mechanisms and securing effective treatment can help prevent addiction and set a positive example for future generations.