Addiction & Genetics–Should I Be Prepared?

Emerging research points to genetics as a major factor for addiction. Knowing that, should people act or behave differently? If addiction runs in your family, should you be prepared for battle? Learn how genetics impacts addiction and what to do if you’re faced with a hereditary risk.

A Genetic Predisposition, Not a Genetic Determination

By some estimates, genetics are responsible for half of the likelihood of developing an addiction. That makes genetics arguably the biggest risk factor of all. However, no risk factor is a guarantee of addiction. Genetics might make a person predisposed to addiction, but addiction can still be avoided.

There are many different risk factors that can contribute to the development of an addiction. Societal factors, mental health, age when trying addictive substances, and so much more, all play a role. None of these factors can take complete responsibility for the formation of an illness.

Compare addiction to another illness such as breast cancer or even diabetes. Both of these diseases, like addiction, have a genetic component. Women who have breast cancer in their immediate family are more likely to also have breast cancer in the future. However, it is not a guaranteed diagnosis.

Like any other risk factor, genetics can be overcome. Armed with the knowledge to prevent addiction and embrace moderation or sobriety, individuals can avoid addiction and stay on the path to health.

The Genetic Component of Mental Health

Mental health issues are one of the major causes of addiction. Many people self-medicate an undiagnosed or untreated mental illness with drugs or alcohol, leading to dependence. However, mental health might also have a genetic component, and that could, in turn, increase the likelihood of developing an addiction.

Mental health and genetics are often thought of as two separate risk factors for addiction. In reality, they might have a lot in common. Mental illness is sometimes thought of as an inherited trait. This means that the risk of mental illness goes up for those who are related to people with a mental illness.

Knowing that mental illness can be a cause of addiction, this could impact the genetic predisposition for addiction. If a person’s parents or siblings struggle with mental health, they could also struggle with mental health conditions in the future. That, in turn, could mean an increased risk of developing an addiction.

Once again, it is vital to point out that these are merely risk factors. It is entirely possible for a person to have addiction and mental health in their family and still avoid even the threat of addiction. Every individual has to take control and responsibility for their actions and decisions, especially the ones that may lead to addiction.

A Shared History of Trauma

Sometimes, it isn’t just genetics that can cause multiple family members to struggle with addiction. In some cases, it might be a shared history of trauma. Since trauma is a risk factor, those who experience the same family trauma face an increased risk of developing an addiction.

Trauma is one of the most common risk factors that lead to addiction. Trauma can be any number of things that cause distress. It could be time spent in the military in an active war zone, or it could be domestic abuse. It might even be witnessing a violent crime or being in a serious emergency situation.

Often, trauma is deeply personal. Part of the trauma might even be intensified because no one else understands what the experience was like. Sometimes, that trauma is shared among family members.

One violent family member, for example, can traumatize the rest of the family. Or, the entire family might be the victims of a robbery or a home invasion. If the entire family was involved in a fire or a flood, each member might have their own traumatic experience to work through. Treating trauma is necessary in order to reduce the risk of addiction in the future.