If you have family members who are alcoholics or drug addicts, unfortunately, your family may be on the losing side of the genetic lottery where addiction is concerned. Studies have repeatedly verified that genetics is at least fifty per cent responsible for a person’s susceptibility to alcoholism or drug addiction. This does not a child of an alcoholic or drug addict will necessarily become addicted. It does mean that this child has a higher risk of becoming an alcoholic or drug addict.
Genetic Factors in Addiction and Alcoholism
Alcoholism and drug addiction start out as behaviors that are influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. A person who is raised in an environment where alcohol and drugs are omnipresent is more likely to have a drink or to use drugs than a person who has no such exposure to those substances. Young people are also more susceptible to peer pressure. If their friends are drinking or using drugs, that peer pressure in their environments will contribute to their decision to drink or to use drugs.
An individual’s genetic tendency toward alcoholism may be an evolutionary vestige that is hardwired into his or her dopamine reward system. Before man developed a sense of reason to distinguish good from bad, his dopamine reward system created pleasurable sensations when he ingested or did something that made him feel good. An early man whose dopamine reward system directed him to pursue good things was likely to outlast another man whose system was not so developed. Unfortunately, alcohol and drugs co-opt a modern man’s dopamine reward system. The genetics that gave a man a better chance of survival in prehistoric times now exposes him to greater risks of addiction or alcoholism.
Some genetic tendencies are stronger for certain drugs or through specific genetic patterns. Some studies have suggested, for example, that a stronger genetic alcoholism or addiction link exists between fathers and sons. Similarly, cocaine and heroin addiction have stronger genetic connections than marijuana. From a survival perspective, individuals who are less likely to experience severe hangovers or withdrawal symptoms may pass that tendency down through younger generations. That tendency protects an individual from experiencing extreme physical discomfort, but it also facilitates consumption of greater quantities of alcohol or drugs, which again increases a person’s susceptibility to alcoholism and drug addiction.
Treating Genetic Addiction
There is no single specific gene for alcoholism or addiction, but certain genes are more likely to affect a person’s potential addictions. Certain genes might make it easier for a person to get drunk quickly, while others give them poor impulse control. Still other genes might make a person ill when he consumes alcohol. Persons who have this latter gene combination will be more likely to stay away from alcohol, thus preventing the onset of alcoholism. Scientists and social theorists continue to study these and other effects of genetic and environmental factors on alcohol and addiction, but no final conclusions have yet been reached.
At a minimum, if you come from a family or grew up in an environment that included one or more family members who were alcoholics or drug addicts, you should remain vigilant of your own use of drugs or alcohol.
If you have concerns about that use, please call the Last Resort Recovery Center near Austin, Texas, at 512-360-3600. We can help you assess your situation and determine whether and to what extent genetics plays a role in exposing you to greater risks of alcoholism or drug addiction.