The Genetic Roots of Addiction

Genetics play a major role in determining a person’s predisposition to addiction, but it is only one factor. Environmental factors and mental health issues can also play a critical role.

There is no one “reason” why some people are more susceptible to drug and alcohol addiction than others. The nature of addiction is complex and has its roots in many different factors. These can range from the co-existence of other mental health issues like depression or bi-polar disorder or environmental factors like early childhood trauma or coming from an unstable family background.

While the various reasons for a person’s predisposition to addiction makes the “nurture vs. nature” argument meaningless, there is little doubt that a person’s genetic makeup can play a significant role in the likelihood that a person will fall victim to addictive traits and perhaps even end up in drug rehab. Many studies have shown that a person with a history of drug or alcohol abuse in their family is more likely to also abuse drugs or alcohol than someone without that past history.

Some of this evidence is slanted: a person with parents who struggled with alcohol or drug addiction is also more likely to have come from a broken home or dealt with abuse as a child — factors which can make them more prone to addiction by themselves. But there is also compelling research to suggest that addiction is as much of a genetic disease as anything else.

A person’s genetic makeup can impact their reaction to drugs and alcohol in a variety of ways. Genetics can alter how a person reacts to the stimulation provided by drugs and alcohol, making it more likely that they will develop abusive patterns quickly after their first time engaging in casual use. Genetics can also intensify the withdrawal symptoms that a person goes through during drug treatment.

Unfortunately, there is no one “addiction gene” which can predict whether a person is genetically predisposed to suffer from drug or alcohol problems or wind up in an addiction program. Scientists have determined that a variety of genetic traits determine a person’s potential for addiction. Many of these genetic traits involve how so-called “pleasure receptors” inside the brain react to stimulation from chemical reactions which produce dopamine and other neurotransmitters.

While it’s a good idea for anyone to avoid drug use and be careful of their alcohol intake, people with a history of family members in addiction treatment should be especially wary. The only guarantee about avoiding drug or alcohol addiction is to not use drugs or alcohol in the first place — regardless of your family history with addiction.