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Is Addiction Hereditary or Genetic?

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Heredity and genetics can influence one’s likelihood of suffering from addiction, but these factors are only part of the equation. Your heredity determines what genes you have, but your environment can influence whether certain genetics express themselves. Addiction is part of a much bigger picture that encompasses heredity, environment, and simple individual choices.

Understanding addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a brain disease that causes ‘functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control.’ Though the first instance of substance use is typically voluntary, addiction can later take over and motivate a person to continue consuming the substance. As addiction takes hold, the individual will require more of the substance to achieve the same positive feelings. In time, the substance may produce no pleasant feelings at all. However, abstaining from the substance will trigger symptoms of withdrawal.

Hereditary factors

Genetics, which are inherited from our parents, play a significant role in addiction. In regards to tobacco use, genetics account for 75% of a person’s inclination to start smoking, 60% of their tendency to become addicted, and 54% of that individual’s ability to quit. An individual’s genetic makeup can influence their susceptibility to other substances like alcohol, heroin, and morphine as well.

Some things that may increase the likelihood of addiction include:

  • A smaller amygdala.
  • Lack of a serotonin receptor gene.
  • Fewer D2 dopamine receptors.
  • Less of the PSD-95 protein.

Environmental factors

Environmental factors have a major role in addiction as well. Even when genes are removed from the equation, an individual’s home environment can impact their likelihood of developing an addiction. In a home where one or more adults suffer from addiction, children may experience:

  • Exposure to addictive substances
  • An attitude of acceptance toward addictive substances
  • Exposure that normalises addictive behaviours
  • Lack of structure
  • High degrees of stress and anxiety
  • Childhood traumas

These elements can all increase the likelihood that an individual will try and become addicted to various substances. When an individual has no exposure or access to drugs, they’re far less likely to use them. Adolescents who have friends that use drugs are far more likely to use them themselves. In this instance, it’s the environment and not heredity that makes the individual more likely to develop an addiction.

Heredity and environment combined

A combination of genes and environmental stressors on gene expression represents up to 60% of an individual’s risk for addiction. It’s often difficult to separate the two factors from one another, especially when one’s parent is addicted themselves, as this contributes to both heredity and the environment.

Is addiction hereditary? Though genes may increase one’s propensity toward addiction, this does not mean that genes can entirely prevent or conclusively cause addiction. Rather, it is a complex combination of factors that determines whether an individual tries and becomes addicted to substances.

Regardless of the cause, addiction is always treatable. Though some people may develop addiction more easily and face a greater struggle through withdrawal, recovery is always possible. If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, it’s never too late to seek help.

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.


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