The question of whether addiction is genetic is quite a complex one, and is one that researchers and the people affected have pondered for decades. However, they have come mostly to the conclusion of “we don’t really know” or “a little bit of both.”
Instead of attempting to answer the unanswerable, we’ve decided to examine some of the ways that both of these factors are thought to potentially contribute to an addiction’s development. While some genes are linked to a specific trait, like hair or eye color, more complicated traits tend to be more diffuse.
Such is the case with addiction, which results from a complex interplay of different genes in combination with the environment in which those genes manifest. While no gene can “cause” an addiction, genes can, for instance, make alcohol more rewarding.
For example, certain gene variants related to the transmission of the reward chemical dopamine have been implicated in increasing the risk of addiction, as have genes that cause alcohol to have less unpleasant side effects, therefore making an early aversion to it less likely. Genes can also affect someone’s response to detox, thus making continual substance abuse more appealing if withdrawal symptoms are more painful and debilitating.
Studies have also shown that rates of addiction are higher in identical twins than in fraternal twins, pointing to genetics as a factor since identical twins share more of their DNA. It has also shown that children of alcoholics are eight times more likely to become alcoholics themselves, with male children of alcoholic fathers being nine times more likely.
Genes can also be a factor in addiction insofar as they contribute to a predisposition to mental illness since conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit disorder are all at least partially inherited and all increase the risk of addiction due to sufferers’ attempted self-medication.
However, though family history seems to clearly increase the risk of addiction, that doesn’t mean someone with no such history is safe, or that certain environmental factors cannot also play a role in an addiction’s development.
For instance, authoritative parenting, which gives children a mix of clear guidelines and loving encouragement and praise, has been shown to be a protective factor as opposed to overly strict, overly permissive or straight up neglectful parenting.
People who have suffered childhood trauma have also been found to be 11 times more likely to become an intravenous drug user, 7 times more likely to become an alcoholic, and almost twice as likely to smoke cigarettes.
Children who have parents who drink at home have also been found to start drinking at younger ages, presumably because the parents are modeling drinking as an “acceptable” behavior. Friends and peers have also been found to play a significant role in encouraging drinking and drug use by indicating its social acceptability.
Someone who has a predisposition to addiction could choose to control their vulnerability with other coping mechanisms, or choose to avoid drinking entirely if they are aware of their predisposition and wish to avoid the negative consequences. While focusing on the genetic underpinnings of addiction can be helpful insofar as it invites consideration of addiction as a disease rather than a moral failing, it should in no way indicate that any genetic vulnerabilities nor any particular environment can prevent someone from achieving a full recovery.To learn more about addiction, withdrawal, and how you or someone you love can obtain the appropriate treatment, feel free to call us anytime at (833) 489-5577 or to contact us online here.