Is Addiction Hereditary Or Genetic?

Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS

on April 15, 2023

An estimated 50% of a person’s overall risk towards alcohol or drug addiction is related to genetic predisposition. This risk, however, can be increased or decreased by complex interactions between those genes and a person’s environment, upbringing, emotional and mental health, relationships, and individual choices and convictions.

We all carry the legacy of our biological parents and grandparents, directly inheriting elements of their appearance, tendencies, gifts, and flaws. This is known as heredity, the passing on of physical or mental characteristics from generation to generation, including substance use disorder or addiction. 

Genes & Addiction

Chronic substance abuse and addiction tends to run in family lines, and experts believe that there are different genetic traits passed down from parent to child that can increase a person’s risk of compulsive substance abuse. 

In fact, it is widely stated that roughly half of a person’s risk of addiction can be linked to genetic factors.

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Is There An Addiction Gene?

There isn’t a single “addiction gene” and anyone with any genetic makeup can develop a problem with drug or alcohol addiction, avoid drug or alcohol addiction, or recover from drug or alcohol addiction in the right circumstances.

Genes Related To Addiction

Scientists have identified specific genes that can increase the risk of developing addiction as well as protect against it, including:

  • DRD2: a subtype of the dopamine receptor associated with dopamine deficiency and increased tendency towards alcohol and cocaine abuse
  • GABRA2 and CHRM2: genes strongly linked to early onset alcohol use disorder/alcohol addiction
  • ADH1B and ALDH2: genes linked to alcohol intolerance and abstinence
  • MAOA, SLC6A4, COMT: genes that influence how a person is able to handle stress and how likely they are to self-medicate against it using drugs or alcohol
  • CHRNA2: a gene linked with cannabis use disorder
  • CUL3, PDE4B, and PTGER3: gene variants associated with increased likelihood for nicotine and alcohol use
  • HIST1H2BD: a gene variant associated with an increased risk for cocaine dependence

Research into the links and neuroscience between the mix of genes found in each person’s unique genome (genetics), their gene expressions (epigenetics), related environmental factors, and overall risk of substance use disorder and addiction is ongoing.

Substance Use Disorder

Many people are introduced to substance use or substance abuse at one point or another, with collegiate binge drinking or therapeutic use of opioid painkillers serving as prime examples. 

However, for most people, addictive behavior doesn’t become substance use disorder (SUD) or addiction, which is defined as uncontrollable drug or alcohol use despite harmful consequences.

Factors like genetic predispositions, family history, and overall mental and emotional health can determine whether a person’s early drug or alcohol experimentation will go on to develop into a full-fledged SUD, as well as other risk factors. 

Family History & Other Risk Factors For Addiction

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a key risk factor for high-risk substance abuse among teens and young adults include a family history of addiction.

Other risk factors for substance use disorder include:

  • exposure to alcohol/drug use at an early age
  • favorable parental attitudes towards substance abuse, or parental substance use
  • poor parental monitoring
  • family rejection of sexual orientation or gender identity
  • association with substance-using peers
  • lack of connection at school
  • low academic achievement
  • childhood trauma, including sexual abuse
  • easy access to drugs or alcohol
  • mental health issues/mental illness including ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety/panic disorders, depression, and schizophrenia

Many of these factors can be addressed to reduce a person’s risk of developing a substance use disorder, including a change of environment, tutoring, family therapy, medication, or professional treatment. 

Even severe childhood trauma can be addressed through professional therapy to help improve and develop a person’s self-esteem, impulse control, decision making, and emotional regulation.

Protective Factors For Substance Use Disorder

Other factors that may reduce the risk of a young adult participating in high-risk substance abuse include:

  • parental/family engagement and support
  • parental disapproval of substance use
  • parental monitoring
  • sense of connection or belonging at school
  • association with non-substance using peers

In general, a secure and supportive environment, effective coping skills, accountability, and close relationships and connections with others all make a person less likely to experience drug or alcohol addiction.

Addiction Treatment

Addiction treatment can help all family members who choose to make a change, regardless of their heredity or past experiences.

At Ohio Recovery Center, we offer evidence-based services like medical detox, inpatient treatment, medication-assisted treatment options, and dual diagnosis care that can give you the tools and support you need to live a healthier life.

To find out if our treatment center is right for you or a loved one, please contact us today.

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — Genetics and Epigenetics of Addiction DrugFacts https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/genetics-epigenetics-addiction
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — High Risk Substance Use in Youth https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/substance-use/index.htm
  3. American Psychiatric Association (APA) — What Is a Substance Use Disorder? https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction-substance-use-disorders/what-is-a-substance-use-disorder#:~:text=People%20with%20SUD%20have%20an,causing%20or%20will%20cause%20problems.

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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