Is addiction hereditary?

If one or both of your parents battle with addiction, you may be asking yourself, “Am I destined to develop an addiction myself?”

This is a common question among people where addiction “runs in the family”. Scientists are now studying how genes can play a role in addiction and are devising ways to identify biological factors that make someone more vulnerable to drug and alcohol addiction. Let’s look at the most recent reports on the link between genetics and addiction, we look at whether addiction is hereditary or not. South Africa is home to a burgeoning population of recovering addicts, counsellors, and specialists, making it an excellent setting for the best drug rehabilitation centres South AfricaGet in touch with us for more information on our affordable rehab South Africa.

Addictive gene: Real or a myth?

There is no specific addiction gene that makes one vulnerable to developing an addiction. However, research shows that people with a family history of addiction have a genetic predisposition to substance use disorder. In other words, you have an increased likelihood or chance of developing the disease due to your genetic makeup and/or family history.
A genetic predisposition results from specific genetic variations that are often inherited from a parent. These genetic changes contribute to the development of a disease but do not directly cause it.

Diseases that people have a genetic predisposition to include diabetes, cancer, asthma, autism, obesity and heart disease. Substance use disorder is now also under the spotlight. More than a decade ago, the American Psychological Association (APA) released a statement saying, “at least half of a person’s susceptibility to drug or alcohol addiction can be linked to genetic factors.”
Does this mean you are destined to develop an addiction if the disease “runs in your family?”

No, it does not. What it means is you may be more vulnerable to the disease and you need to make a concerted effort to avoid going down the same path.

What environmental factors play a role in addiction?

Yes, genetics do play a role in your risk of developing an addiction but there are environmental factors that contribute to the risk. One could coin this ‘nature versus nurture.
The 6 environmental factors that have a strong influence on how susceptible a person is to addiction are:

Have a co-occurring mental health disorder
According to reports published in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

  • roughly 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse
  • 37 percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness
  • of all people diagnosed as mentally ill, 29 percent abuse alcohol or drugs

The presence of a mental illness and an addiction at the same time is known as dual diagnosis. Both conditions share the same symptoms and it’s often difficult to know which one came first. Substance use disorder does not necessarily directly cause addiction and vice versa but the two are often linked.

Have an adventurous and risk-taking personality

Research shows that thrill-seekers are more vulnerable to developing an addiction. People who love the adrenalin rush of risky adventures often indulge in impulsive behaviour and exhibit little control when experimenting with dangerous activities.

People with higher levels of the hormone dopamine in their brain and lower sensitivity to it tend to be risk-takers and seek out behaviour, activities or substances that boost dopamine in their system. Dopamine plays a role in reinforcing your brain’s craving for pleasure and is the primary neurotransmitter associated with addiction.

Are disconnected and cautious

Disconnected or cautious people have difficulty developing social relationships and may suffer from low self-esteem. Many of these people also suffer from co-occurring mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety disorder.

Disconnected or cautious people may turn to alcohol or recreational drugs to boost their confidence or to manage painful feelings of loneliness, sadness or hopelessness. As tolerance for the substance builds, they use more of the substance more often and the risk of addiction increases.

Are obsessive and compulsive

Individuals who are diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have a greater tendency to develop an addiction. Obsessive and compulsive behaviour is exhausting and people who struggle with OCD often manage their impulses or feelings by self-medicating with prescription drugs or drinking alcohol to feel more calm and relaxed.

Heavy or prolonged use of their substance of choice changes how their brain works and leads to substance tolerance. This may lead to an addiction.

Are apathetic

Individuals who exhibit apathetic behaviour have a higher tendency to develop an addiction. Apathy is when you lack interest or motivation to do anything or don’t care about what’s going on in the world around you. Apathy can be a symptom of a mental illness.

Apathetic people tend to show little to no regard for their well-being and are more prone to use drugs or alcohol to keep themselves occupied or to distract themselves from painful feelings of loneliness, depression or hopelessness.

Have poor impulse control

Individuals who have poor impulse control or who battle to self-regulate themselves are at higher risk of developing an addiction. They tend to have a difficult time doing anything in moderation, including regulating their behaviours, thoughts and feelings. Examples include people with an eating disorder and people with gambling, Internet or porn addiction.

Is addiction hereditary?

What can I do if addiction runs in my family?

You are vulnerable to developing an addiction if you have one or more parents who live with or have recovered from addiction. It could even be aunts, uncles and cousins. There isn’t anything you can do about your DNA but you can avoid falling into the same trap by taking steps to safeguard your physical and mental health.

Educate yourself on the disease

Addiction is a chronic disease that changes how your brain works and how you function as an individual. The more you know about the nature of the disease and the science behind addiction, the better. There is a wealth of valuable content on addiction on the Internet. Otherwise, you can speak to your doctor or a therapist to help you understand the disease better.

Have an open discussion with your family

In many cases, older family members will have hidden or tried to hide their battle with addiction. Speak to your parents or relatives and gather as much information as you can regarding the prevalence of addiction in the family and underlying reasons for the addiction.

Discuss your family history of addiction with your doctor

Your doctor must know about your family history of addiction, particularly if you need a prescription drug for an illness or if you need surgery. Your doctor can suggest other options to cope with pain or symptoms of a chronic illness that are not highly addictive opioids.

Discuss your family history of addiction with your partner

It’s a good idea to be upfront with the person you’re dating that you have a history of addiction in your family. If the person loves you, they shouldn’t judge you. If your partner makes you feel ashamed, he or she doesn’t deserve you. Rather, it’ll help your partner understand why certain situations make you fearful or anxious. Your partner should support you in the steps you take to avoid falling into the trap of addiction.

Limit or avoid drugs or alcohol

The best thing you can do is not take drugs or drink any alcohol. Too often we think, “it’s only a one-time thing” or “I only drink on social occasions”. It’s not worth the risk of losing control of your drug or alcohol use and then eventually developing an addiction.

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