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What You Should Know about Genetics and Addiction

You have probably heard that addiction is genetic and even that it can “run in families.” Some people avoid any kind of substance after seeing the struggles that their parents, grandparents, siblings, or extended family have had with addiction.

The truth is that we know that there are many factors that can influence a person developing an addiction to any type of substance. While we do understand that addiction has a genetic component, scientists are still learning the ways that our genes influence our likelihood of falling into addictive behaviors. So, what should you know about addiction and genetics — and are you doomed to become addicted just because your family members have been?

How Do Our Genetics Influence Our Likelihood of Addiction?

Recent medical studies have dived deep into the causes behind addiction, particularly when it comes to genetics. The results concluded that addiction is often the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

These include:

  • Early childhood trauma
  • Interruptions in brain development
  • Neglect
  • Role modeling
  • Neuroinflammation
  • Mental illness

Amid these moving factors, genes can also play a role. There are many genes that your parents pass on to you that could factor into an increased likelihood of drug addiction. These concern brain health, reward processing, stress resilience, and metabolism.

It’s a complex chapter of genetics. These hundreds of gene formations can make substance abuse more likely for many reasons, from poor stress response to low levels of reward hormones. Scientists have even discovered certain genes that increase the risk of certain specific addictions, including cannabis use disorder, alcoholism, or cocaine use.

In other words? There’s no single “addiction gene.” Our genetics are a complex map of many, many expressions. These are passed down not just from our parents but also from our grandparents and earlier ancestors.

What Are Other Factors?

One of the major factors that put you at a higher risk of developing an addiction to drugs, alcohol, or other actions is stress. At its root, addiction is bound to the dopamine rush that comes from the addictive behavior. People who are chronically stressed, especially those who grew up in a particularly stressful or traumatic environment, are particularly at risk.

But you do not need to have had an unhappy childhood or even be an anxious person to fall into addiction. Stress is just a part of life, and we all go through periods where it is particularly bad. During these times, everyone develops a coping mechanism. Because humans tend to be more vulnerable during times of high stress, some of these coping mechanisms may be less healthy or more dangerous than others.

In other words, there is no “type” for addiction. There is a reason that stress makes us vulnerable to falling into addictive behaviors, and it comes down to physical changes in your genes. These are called epigenetic changes.

Epigenetic changes are, essentially, information that gets added to your genetic code. They alter gene expression, including the brain’s reaction to and regulation of reward hormones such as dopamine. This is one major reason why severe stress — such as the loss of a loved one or a traumatic experience — can make someone more vulnerable to addictive behaviors, even if they haven’t exhibited them in the past.

If My Relatives Are Addicts, Am I Bound to Become One, Too?

Scientists now believe that genetics are about half of the “recipe” for substance abuse. But just because your family members have struggled with addiction, it does not mean you are doomed. There are a lot of factors at play, even down to simple access.

The bottom line is that if addiction “runs” in your family, you may be more likely than the average person to develop addictive behaviors. But this also depends on your environment, stress levels, trauma coping mechanisms, access to substances, and, to some degree, personal choices.

It is always good to be aware of your family history and take it into account, especially during times when you are feeling vulnerable. But it’s also important to remember that you are an individual, and your genes do not necessarily determine every factor of your life.

Many people who have seen substance abuse in their family avoid drugs and alcohol altogether. This may be because they are worried that they will become addicted or simply because they have seen the devastation that substance abuse can have on a person’s life and relationships. This is an absolutely viable choice if you decide to avoid substances altogether.

What Can I Do if I’m Worried?

Genes are not the only things we inherit from our parents. We also learn to model their behaviors and learn about stress responses from their example. Our experiences during childhood can also affect whether we are prone to substance abuse, especially if there was trauma, neglect, or violence.

If you are worried about your chances of developing an addiction or you suspect you may already be struggling with an addiction, one of the best things you can do is to talk to a friend or relative about your concerns. This can be frightening or embarrassing, but it is the first step to getting support. You can also speak to a medical professional. They may be able to refer to a local support group, rehabilitation facility, or other resources.

Many people who suspect they might have an addiction feel embarrassed, distressed, or frightened. For this reason, they might feel more comfortable talking to someone anonymously. The good news is that there are many resources online that offer remote support through chat or texting.

Getting Started With Inner Voyage Recovery

At Inner Voyage Recovery, we offer support through a combination of therapies to help individuals battling addiction, trauma, mental health disorders, and more. If you think you may need professional support for substance abuse, our doors are open to give you all the resources you need to get started. Get the help you need today by calling our Woodstock, GA, office at (470) 523-4606 to speak with an admissions counselor.

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