Is Substance Abuse Hereditary?


Is Substance Abuse Hereditary?

There is nothing strange about asking this question. In fact, millions of people whose family members or parents have indulged in drug and alcohol abuse wonder if it’s something they too might fall into – especially if they have already begun the substance abuse themselves. 

The short answer to if genes can make you more likely to become an addict or substance abuser is YES. But don’t panic yet because there is more to it. 

The role of your genetic structure

It’s no secret that your genetic structure is the foundation of all human traits. This includes your physical and behavioral attributes. For example, blue eyes may run in the family or your parents or even grandfather has blue eyes. Then a behavioral trait like kindness or aggression can also be passed across from one family member to another. A predisposition to drug and alcohol abuse can be one of those behavioral traits. 

What is the specific gene in question?

None. There is no specific gene that causes you to engage in alcoholism or drug abuse. What you do have are several small factors and several genes that amplify that risk or desire. For example, if mental illness is passed across a family, the nature of the disease easily puts such people at risk of turning to drug and alcohol abuse. Now, in this case, the desire for substance abuse is not passed directly but rather another factor that leads most people to it is passed. 

The environment plays a role

Someone with a genetic predisposition to drug and alcohol abuse is always mostly driven by nonhereditary factors to do it. For example, you could be highly sensitive to stress or failure and sometimes such situations are unavoidable in life. When a situation of failure occurs, this is an environmental/nonhereditary factor that can appeal to the genetic predisposition for drug and alcohol abuse to make you turn to it. 

Environmental and Non-environmental Risk Factors 

  • Aggressive behavior
  • Poverty
  • Lack of parental guidance
  • Experimenting with alcohol and drug
  • Accessibility to drug and alcohol
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Traumatic experiences like witnessing violence
  • Peer pressure

Factors that protect against these risks

  • Love from family and friends
  • Discipline and self-control
  • Parental guidance
  • Good grades
  • Availability of good resources.

The good news

Despite the role of genetics and heredity in substance abuse, research has shown that most children or siblings in this situation do not become addicts or indulge in forms of substance abuse. This proves that while you may inherit the risk, it is not set in stone that you must act on the risks. A good practice to avoid this completely is to not start drug and alcohol dependence at all. Or get help as quickly as possible. 

Help is out there in the form of support groups, drug treatment centers, or rehab centers. 

Knowing the possible risks can help you take deliberate steps to avoid substance abuse or remind you why you shouldn’t go down a similar path anymore. 



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