Does Genetics Play a Role in Addiction?

An estimated 23.5 million Americans struggle with drug and alcohol addiction — that’s one in 10 people over the age of 12. Addiction is a disorder with mental and physical elements, and it’s a national epidemic.

Daniel J. Headrick, MD, and our team at Headrick Medical Center are dedicated to treating addiction and changing lives. We offer comprehensive addiction treatment services, and we work with people and their families to better-understand the nuances of addiction.

Addiction is a complex disorder with lots of contributing factors - but one question that we’re asked often is, “Does genetics play a role in addiction?” The answer starts with understanding the factors that go into addiction.

Understanding addiction

Addiction is a chronic disorder. It’s characterized by the compulsive and often reckless use of alcohol, legal drugs, or illegal drugs.

Addictive substances contain chemicals that change the way your brain works. They create positive sensations in your brain, but you often need to use more and more of the drug to achieve the same “high.” 

Many addictive substances are first used in social settings. While it’s possible to use alcohol and drugs recreationally without developing an addiction, addiction is always a possibility. When you feel like you can no longer function normally without the drug, that’s when addiction develops.

A few common signs of addiction are:

Addiction certainly has physical factors, but psychosocial factors also play a role. Your environment, life experiences, behavior, and even your genetics affect whether or not you’re likely to develop an addiction when you use addictive substances.

The links between genetics and addiction

Genes are the units of DNA that direct all the cells in your body. You inherit genes from your parents, and they determine key characteristics about you. Genes control your physical features like hair and eye color, but they also influence your overall health, including your susceptibility to addictive behavior.

Like many other chronic health conditions, addiction has hereditary factors — which means it runs in families. Anyone can develop an addiction, but studies indicate that up to 60% of your risk originates in your genetic makeup.

Your genetic predisposition interacts with other factors, like your environment and individual personality, and affects your health in numerous ways. If you have a grandparent, parent, or sibling with an addiction, you could inherit an increased likelihood of addiction.

There’s still a lot that researchers don’t know about addiction and what makes some people more susceptible than others, but there are strong links between your family history and your risk of addiction.

Addiction isn’t inevitable

It’s clear that genetics have a strong influence on addiction. Addiction tends to run in families, but it’s important to note that it’s not inevitable.

Having a parent, sibling, or other close relative with an addiction doesn’t mean that you’ll inevitably develop one yourself. It does mean that you’re more susceptible to addictive behavior, and you should exercise extra caution.

Learn to recognize the signs of addiction. Recognize that you’re at increased risk of addiction, and weigh the risks when choosing to use alcohol or drugs. Remember that abstinence is the only way to ensure you won’t develop an addiction. 

If you find yourself or a loved one struggling with addiction, help is available. Comprehensive recovery programs can give you the support you need to make a permanent change for your health and your life.

At Headrick Medical Center, our compassionate team offers outpatient detoxification, medication management, therapy services, and more to help you overcome addiction and achieve long-term recovery.

We’re here whenever you’re ready. To learn more about addiction treatment, contact our team online or call for a consultation.

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