Genes and addiction: are you at risk?

Addiction genes

No gene has been identified as the “addiction gene”, but scientists have established genes play a role in how vulnerable people are to substance use disorder. If you have one or more parents who have battled with addiction, you might be worried that the condition is hereditary. We explore the role genetics play in addiction and what you can do to safeguard your destiny.

Are your at risk of addiction if a parent has/had an addiction?

Genes do play a role in addiction, but addiction specialists will tell you that “predisposition isn’t destiny”. Many environmental factors come into play, such as the home environment, friends and associates, culture, social and media norms. However, it’s common to wonder, “If my mother or father has an addiction, will I have one too?”

Anyone can become addicted to alcohol or drugs. However, if one or both parents have battled with an active addiction, you need to take steps to avoid developing a substance use disorder yourself. The best way you can do this is to educate yourself on the disease and limit or avoid alcohol and drugs altogether and friends and associates that normalise heavy drinking or drug abuse.

What is an addiction gene

What is an addiction gene?

As mentioned, there is no particular gene that has been identified as the addiction gene. However, researchers have established that individuals who battle active addiction tend to have children who develop a habit at much higher rates (25% higher on average) than children of non-addict parents.

The precise link between substance use disorder and genetics is a hotly debated topic. Studies have established that 40 to 60 percent of predisposition to addiction is attributed to genetics. The term genetics covers inherited genes. In other words, physiological traits are passed from parents to children.

In the same way that genes play a role in a person’s predisposition to addiction, they also play a role in one’s ability to quit. The speed at which you can metabolise harmful substances makes a difference in whether you can stop using the substance and the likelihood of relapse.

Addictionologists are studying the human genome in the hopes of finding candidate genes that can be directly linked to addiction. This linkage analysis will help the addiction society better understand the disease and guide treatment options for long-term recovery.

Did you know?

An addictionologist is defined as a healthcare professional who is specialised in the diagnosis, study, and treatment of psychological dependence. An addictionologist is a physician or addiction psychiatrist who holds a formal qualification in addiction medicine.

Is addiction hereditary?

Addiction itself is not hereditary, so you are not “doomed to the same fate” because one or both parents have/had an active addiction. However, a genetic predisposition to substance abuse can be passed on from parent(s) to children. The American Psychological Association(APA) states that “at least half of a person’s susceptibility to drug and alcohol addiction can be linked to genetic factors”.

The emphasis is on ‘genetic predisposition’ to substance abuse, meaning the likelihood or tendency that someone will develop an addiction is heightened based on biological factors. Not all children who have a parent with an addiction will develop a habit in later life, but the risk is higher for them than for children who don’t have a genetic predisposition.

The bottom line is there isn’t one factor determining whether you will develop an addiction. The medical world rejects the idea of having an addictive personality or an addiction gene.

Addiction is a complex brain disease, and it’s caused by a domino effect of circumstances that lead to compulsive use. Drug and alcohol abuse leads to tolerance of the substance, which changes how your brain works and processes reward, stress and self-control. It’s common knowledge that there is no “cure” for substance use disorder, but it is a treatable disease.

How is genetic makeup linked to addiction?

Research conducted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) into the role of genes in drug addiction has shown that natural variations in proteins that are encoded by a person’s genes can lead to differences in how vulnerable that person is to drugs of abuse. The research was conducted in the United States among a sample of 1 934 identical and fraternal twins.

In addition, brain imaging suggests that people with fewer D2 receptors are more likely to become addicted than those with many of the receptors. How many D2 receptors people have is primarily determined by genetics. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, explained that a specific type of dopamine receptor (D2) might someday be used to predict whether someone will become addicted to harmful substances.

Is there such a thing as an addictive personality

An addictive personality is as much a myth as the addiction gene. It’s become a way of stereotyping a person who is all but destined to become an addict. The notion of addiction personality conjures up an image of the type of person likely to develop a substance addiction based on their home life, social status or friends and associates.

That being said, several traits are recognised in individuals who develop substance use disorders. They’re not present in every person who develops an addiction, so these traits should be viewed with caution.

People who have a higher addiction risk:

  • have a blood relative who battles with active addiction
  • have a co-occurring mental health disorder
  • are risk-takers or adrenalin seekers
  • are disconnected and cautious
  • are obsessive and compulsive
  • are apathetic
  • are unable to self-regulate
Developing a support system against addiction

Develop a support system

Suppose you’re worried that you’re at risk of developing an addiction because it “runs in the family”. In that case, it’s a good idea to establish a caring support system earlier rather than later. A support system that includes a specialist addiction therapist adds a layer of protection that can minimise your risk of developing the disease.

Talk therapy in its various forms allows you to discuss your fears of “inheriting an addiction” from a parent and gives you the tools to make better life decisions.

We’re here to help.

Contact us today if you’d like a confidential and free chat with one of our highly-trained addiction professionals at Centers for Health & Healing in Ontario, Canada.

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