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Is Addiction Genetic? A Guide for Families

If you love an addict, it can feel like you live your life walking on eggshells. Each time you see an unknown number calling your phone, wondering if they’ve lapsed again. Or worse – is it the police, is it the emergency department?

It’s an exhausting and emotionally draining way to live. It’s often made worse by a sense of guilt: is this my fault? If many people in your family struggle with abuse of alcohol and other drugs, you might be wondering, is addiction genetic?

To learn the answer and find out how you can best support an addict, read on.

Is Addiction Genetic?

We know you want a straight answer, but the answer is complicated. We human beings are so very individual and live in such different contexts. So the answer here is both yes, and no.

There are genetic factors at play in addiction. There are also environmental factors that alter the chance of predispositions presenting.

Genetic Factors of Addiction

Addiction does appear to run in families. The American Psychologists Association (APA) say 50% of susceptibility is due to hereditary factors. There is a particular dopamine receptor (D2), which may predict addiction to alcohol, cocaine, and heroin.

People with fewer D2 receptors seem to be more likely to become addicted than those with many of these receptors. Remember that this receptor is only a predictor, not a determinant of addiction. The propensity for addiction is not the same as destiny.

When it comes to tobacco addiction, genes account for 75% of your likeliness to start smoking. Your genes also account for 60% of your likelihood to become addicted, and 54% of your chance of quitting.

Personality Factors of Addiction

There is a personality trait known as sensation-seeking. It’s seen as the ‘risk-taking’ factor that ties a seeking-out of novel and intense experiences or sensations. Now, someone with this personality trait isn’t destined to become an addict.

They might become a pilot, a professional rock-climber, or a high-stakes stockbroker instead. Psychologists believe personality has more to do with genetics than with the environment we grow up in. So, for the moment, nature has a slight lead over nurture in the age-old nature vs nurture debate.

Environmental Factors of Addiction

Genetics and personality factors influence your likelihood to try drugs. It’s the people around you and your ease of access to the drug that most influence your likelihood to actually become addicted. The exposure a child has to drug abuse and the attitudes of those around them to drug use are other environmental factors at play.

Some advertising campaigns focus on changing parent’s attitudes toward drugs like alcohol. That’s due to their roles as influencers and role models in their children’s lives. There are a growing number of campaigns trying to remove alcohol advertising in sports for similar reasons.

Trauma as a Factor in Addiction

Psychological trauma in childhood correlates with drug abuse in adolescence. Trauma resulting from exposure to abuse or domestic violence before the age of 11, has a particularly strong effect.  The research shows that this link is independent of the presence of mental health issues.

Trauma from natural disasters, major childhood illnesses, and car accidents can lead to drug abuse. To reduce the likelihood of later addiction, mental health issues or other problematic adult behaviors we need to deal with this early.
It is more likely adolescents will try drugs if they’ve experienced trauma, not that they will necessarily become addicted.

Genetic, environmental and psychological factors combine to increase the odds of addiction. What can you do if you are worried someone you love might be high-risk for potential addiction?

Protective Factors Against Addiction

It’s important drug treatment programs address underlying psychological harm from traumatic childhood experiences. They should work with the person to help them create less harmful coping strategies to work through their stress and trauma. Early intervention as they enter adolescence can have big benefits in terms of saving them a lifetime of addiction.

The Signs of Addiction

Drug abuse can affect anyone, of any cultural background, social class, and education level. If you suspect someone you love is abusing drugs, it is important to get help right away. So what are the signs that someone might have a problem?

Some of the signs of drug abuse include:

  • irritability, aggression, lethargy and/or depression
  • changes in personality
  • criminal activity
  • bloodshot eyes or dilated or constricted pupils
  • abrupt weight changes
  • Looking untidy, and losing interest in physical appearance

It’s Not Your Fault

When a loved one is abusing or addicted to alcohol or other drugs, it is common for family or friends to feel responsible. This is an unfair emotional weight. It’s important to remember that however unwell or traumatized your loved one is, they make their own decisions.

The best way you can help them is by being steady support. Let them know they can come to you if when they need to. Tell them you are worried about their behavior and you’ll support their recovery whenever they are ready.

You can’t change their life for them. You can’t do rehab for them. They need to come to help when they are ready for it to really work.

Getting Help for Someone with Addiction

You wanted to know ‘is addiction genetic?’, and our answer is, it’s complicated. Genetics, personality, environment, and trauma all play a part. And there is also an individual making choices about consuming drugs.

Early intervention psychological support can reduce the chance of addiction and later relapse. If you suspect your loved one is having problems with addiction, connect them to help. One very effective way of treating opioid addiction is suboxone.

If your loved one is battling an opioid addiction, it’s critical they get the right intervention early. The longer they continue drug abuse, the more physical damage they will do, and the greater the risk they place to their life.

If you’re ready to stop worrying every time the phone rings, connect your loved one to a suboxone clinic today.

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