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Can Addiction Be Inherited?

From the color of your hair to the shape of your body, the genes you inherit from your parents play a huge role in making up who you are. They affect not only your physical appearance, but also how your body functions. This includes your predisposition to getting certain diseases such as mental illness, cancer, chronic disorders, and even substance addiction.

Addiction is classified as a brain disease by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and considered to be a chronic life-long condition. Having a family member who suffers from substance addiction may indicate that you have a genetic predisposition to it, but it does not mean that you will experience it yourself. There are other factors to consider in assessing an individual’s risk for developing addiction.

Biological Factors

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism study shows that genes are responsible for 40% to 60% of an individual’s risk for the disease. Several genes have been identified as specifically influencing alcohol use disorder because they control the brain’s pleasure receptors. Because genes are inherited, this predisposition towards substance abuse can be passed down to blood relations.

Another consideration for genetic predisposition is the hereditary nature of some mental disorders. Illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia tend to run in families. If the illness is not properly treated, it can incapacitate the individual and increase their likelihood of developing a substance use disorder.

Environmental Influences

Apart from genetics, the risk of developing a substance abuse problem becomes higher when living with a relative who has the disease or growing up in an environment where substance abuse is common. This may normalize the use of illegal drugs or encourage underage or binge drinking. Stressful living conditions like having parents who fight all the time or are abusive can also contribute to drug-seeking behavior. Additionally, teenagers are vulnerable to peer pressure and may engage in risky behavior to gain acceptance.

It is for this reason that those who seek addiction help may want to opt for in-patient treatment in a Miami drug rehab facility even if they live as far out as Alaska. Being away from what is familiar allows the patient to break from unhealthy habits and relationships that contribute to substance-seeking behaviors and start anew in a fresh environment. Rehab facilities also offer a more controlled setting with regular routines and a supportive community. This makes it easier for patients to focus on their recovery, and some may opt to move into a sober-living community once they finish rehab.

Psychological Trauma

People who experience a traumatic event are more likely to develop substance use disorders. Trauma causes psychological damage in the person who experiences it, and this affects how they treat themselves and respond to the external world. Alcohol and drugs become addictive because they block the brain’s stress receptors and provide momentary relief, so survivors of trauma who don’t receive proper treatment may abuse these substances as a means of coping.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Apart from inheriting genes that predispose them to addiction, it is possible for babies to be born with an existing drug dependence. This occurs when they are exposed to heroin and other addictive substances while in the womb due their mother’s drug usage. Once born, they may experience withdrawal symptoms called neonatal abstinence syndrome. The severity of the withdrawal varies depending on the drug used and the amount the baby was exposed to. Most severe cases are linked to heroin and other opioids, resulting in seizures that require urgent treatment and medication. Symptoms can last for as long as 6 months, and there may be lasting effects on growth and development.

What to Do If You Are at Risk

While having one or more of these conditions can make you more vulnerable to substance abuse, they are not definitive. It is important to remember that you have control over your actions and can take additional steps to protect yourself.

  1. Find out everything you can about your family history. If you have relatives who have a substance addiction, consider the circumstances they were living in and how it may have influenced their disorder.
  2. Develop a network of people you trust and nurture those relationships. Surrounding yourself with people who care about you and can help you feel secure and better equipped to handle stressful situations. You may also want to talk to them about your concerns and ask them for their support in staying sober.
  3. Learn to manage stress in a healthy, productive manner. Feeling overwhelmed by problems is a fairly common experience, so you need to have healthy coping strategies. Meditation and breathing exercises are free and easy options to consider.
  4. Set boundaries for yourself and avoid situations that expose you to drugs and excessive alcohol consumption. Going to a place where alcoholic drinks are served might be manageable if you know you can politely decline, but if you feel pressured to participate, consider skipping it altogether.
  5. Seek professional help when you feel particularly vulnerable. If you are undergoing major life changes or feel more stressed than usual, getting counseling from a licensed therapist can help you stay resilient. Some rehab facilities also have 24/7 hotlines you can contact for urgent situations or if you think you may need treatment.

Your genes, environment, and history may make you more susceptible to substance use disorder but that doesn’t mean you have to be. You have control over what you do, and you can choose to maintain a healthy and sober lifestyle. Unlike other hereditary diseases, addiction is one that you can opt out of.


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