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Is Addiction Genetic? Understanding Your Risk for a Drug or Alcohol Use Disorder

There is a link between genetics and addiction. In fact, some studies show hereditary factors make up about 50-75% of substance abuse and addiction. Here’s how to know if you’re at risk.

Are you concerned you might have a drug or alcohol problem? Contact us at The Woods at Parkside to schedule an appointment.

Is Addiction Genetic or Learned?

Boy sad on coach looking at the genetic affect alcohol has on his family

For a very long time, scientists, academics, and others debated the question of nature vs. nurture. They wanted to determine whether genetics was the cause of mental health problems or whether it was all about what you learned. Today, that question has largely been resolved. The answer is that, in most cases, it is both heredity and learned behaviors. The same is true for drug and alcohol use disorders.

Genetic Components of Addiction

Although there is not one specific gene that determines whether you will become addicted to drugs or alcohol, there are several genes that seem to play a part. Some genes have been linked to alcohol metabolism in a way that could protect against alcohol addiction. Others have been associated with alcohol use disorder. There may be genetic components of a cannabis use disorder, smoking, cocaine addiction, or opioid misuse.

However, despite these insights, there is really no reliable way to discover whether your genes put you at risk. Instead, doctors look at your family history to determine whether you are more likely to become addicted to a substance or not. For example, if your father or even several members of your family have alcohol use disorder, you are more likely to have it as well.


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Learning and Environment in Addiction

Generally, put on the nurture side of the debate are both learning and environment. Suppose you grow up in a family in which the adults use drugs or alcohol frequently. In that case, you are not only in an environment where these substances are available to you, but you also learn from your parents’ example. Remember, you can’t have an addiction unless you try the substance.

Is an Addictive Personality Genetic?

The diagnosis of a personality disorder is a complex task. The known personality disorders include borderline personality, narcissistic personality, avoidant personality, antisocial personality, and a few others. Diagnosing these disorders takes expertise and requires the doctor to evaluate their history, behavior, social patterns, and other elements of personality disorders. However, an addictive personality is not on this list.

The concept of an addictive personality can be somewhat vague. There is no diagnosis of addictive personality in the DSM-5, the manual used by psychiatrists to diagnose mental conditions. Yet, it does seem that people who become addicted to one substance are more likely to develop other addictions.

It could be that it is the genetic component of addiction that leads to the idea of an addictive personality. After all, if a gene affects your chances of becoming addicted to more than one substance, it might appear that you are just a person prone to addictions of all kinds.

However, in addition to the genetic factors, which can overlap for different drugs, it’s also true that the environment for different drugs can be the same. For instance, if you are in an environment where alcohol is present, there may also be other substances there. If you spend a lot of time with friends who use alcohol, they might also use cigarettes or other drugs when you are with them.

Do You Have a Risk for Alcohol Use Disorder?

Know Your Risk for Alcohol Disorder 7 Questions to Ask Infographic

So, how do you know if you have a risk for alcohol use disorder or other substance use disorders? First, look at your family history. Then, consider your environment. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do members of your family misuse drugs or alcohol?
  • How far back in your family have there been family members who misused drugs or alcohol?
  • Has anyone in your family been told by a doctor that they have a substance use disorder?
  • Do you often spend time with people who are using alcohol or drugs?
  • Have you been with family members when they used?
  • Are drugs and alcohol easy for you to get? Are they available in your home?
  • Do you go places knowing that drugs and alcohol will be used there?

These are just a few of the things that may put you at risk of drug or alcohol use disorders. You can’t change your genetic code, but you do have some control over the environments in which you choose to spend time.

Is My Alcohol or Drug Use Disorder Caused by Genetics?

If you already have an alcohol or drug use disorder, it could be at least partly caused by genetics. By paying attention to or asking members of your family, you may be able to easily discern whether heredity is a factor for you.

Besides the hereditary factors for drug and alcohol addictions, genetic factors for mental illnesses can also be involved. Some mental disorders make people more likely to use drugs or alcohol. Furthermore, many of these conditions have been linked to genes. So, the genetic component of your addiction may go beyond any genetic factors for drug and alcohol use disorders. Yet, besides that, the symptoms of mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, may lead people to use alcohol or drugs in an effort to regain control.

The truth is that while you may have a genetic predisposition to drug or alcohol misuse, there is more to these conditions than genetics. A predisposition means that genetic factors make addiction more likely, not inevitable. Therefore, treatment must address both the hereditary factors and the choices you can make to overcome your addiction.

The Woods at Parkside for Drug or Alcohol Use Disorder

Treating drug or alcohol use disorders requires considering both hereditary and environmental factors. Thus, when your care addresses both sides of the issue, you have a better chance of overcoming your addiction.

At The Woods at Parkside, we recognize the complexity of drug and alcohol use disorders. That’s why we have a team of experts in these conditions. What’s more, our programs include dual diagnosis treatments for people with both addiction and co-occurring mental disorders. This dual diagnosis treatment addresses all the factors of both heredity and environment for both types of conditions.

The Woods at Parkside, serving people in and near Southern and Central Ohio, has been certified by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and accredited by The Joint Commission. With our staff’s extensive expertise in addiction recovery, you can be sure that you will receive top-quality care at our facility in Gahanna, Ohio.

We provide detox services, residential programming, partial programming, and intensive outpatient services to treat and support you through every phase of your recovery. Whether you have a hereditary predisposition to drug and alcohol use disorders or not, our team will assess your condition and create a customized treatment plan to address your unique needs. Remember, your genes are only a part of the equation. We can help you get past your predispositions to find sobriety and build a more satisfying life.

Are you struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction that might be caused by heredity? Contact The Woods at Parkside to discuss treatment options.

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