Is Addiction Genetic?

Why can some people enjoy an occasional glass of wine at dinner, while others feel like they just can’t stop drinking? Why do some people take medications after a surgery and then stop, while others develop an addiction to opioids? Researchers have been trying to figure out the answers to questions like these for decades. Today, we know that addiction is a multifaceted condition that has genetic and environmental components.


Genetic Predisposition: A Word About Addiction

If you have a parent, grandparent or other relative who has dealt with a substance use disorder, you may be afraid that you’ll develop an addiction yourself. How do you know whether you are at risk? Learning more about this disease can help you to understand (and mitigate) the possibility of substance abuse in your own life.

The basic definition of addiction is that a person begins compulsively acquiring and using a substance in order to feel its psychoactive effects. While the initial use of drugs or alcohol is voluntary, the continued dependence is not.

Addiction is a complex diagnosis; researchers define it as chronic and relapsing, and they have learned that it requires a certain combination of factors in order to develop. In some instances, genetic predispositions can contribute to a person’s risk for a substance use disorder.


Is There a Genetic Component to Addiction?

Yes and no. Unlike other diseases, there is no one gene that determines whether or not you will develop a substance use disorder. Instead, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) explains that many different genetic components can influence your risk for developing a substance use disorder. For example, the following can impact your risk for alcoholism:

  • Genes encoding enzymes involved in breaking down alcohol
  • Genes encoding brain-signaling molecules
  • Genes that control immune functioning
  • Genes that regulate your body’s daily rhythm


Nature or Nurture?

It’s important to note that genetics also combine with environmental factors to create your overall risk for addiction. The old adage “nature vs. nurture” could probably be more accurately phrased as “nature and nurture.” Life circumstances like trauma, mental illness, parental substance abuse, social pressure, early exposure to drugs or alcohol, education level, employment and socioeconomic status have a lot to do with whether or not a person becomes reliant on drugs and alcohol. However, for those with heightened genetic risk, there are steps you can take to avoid addiction.


If I Have a Family History of Addiction, Will I Develop One?

Not necessarily! Just because you have a genetic predisposition to develop a substance use disorder doesn’t mean that it’s inevitable. It only means that you have a higher level of risk than the general population. Therefore, you’ll probably have to take extra precautions to avoid developing a chemical dependency.

Steps you can take to mitigate your risk of addiction are…

  • Don’t drink when you’re anxious or depressed.
  • Avoid self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.
  • Find healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Practice good impulse control and delayed gratification.
  • Don’t hang out with people who binge drink or use drugs.
  • Learn to deal with your stress without substances.
  • Address your risks, trauma and concerns with a therapist.
  • Learn more about the consequences of substance abuse.
  • Connect with others and don’t isolate yourself.
  • Manage your mental health with professional help.


Preventative Education and Recovery Resources in Tennessee

If you are worried about your genetic risk for addiction – or if you have already developed a substance use disorder – Cumberland Heights is here to help. Our outstanding clinical team is standing by to create a treatment plan tailored to your unique needs, no matter what your circumstances are. We can also provide complimentary addiction assessments and a wide array of preventative educational programs for those in need. Contact us today to learn more.