Have you ever wondered, “is addiction genetic?” It’s a common question, and research suggests that genetics and environmental factors play a role in addiction. However, having a family history of addiction doesn’t guarantee your future.
To understand how genes affect addiction, let’s clarify some terms:
- Genes: As defined by the National Human Genome Research Institute, these contain information our parents pass down that determines our physical and biological traits.
- Addiction: It’s a chronic but treatable disease resulting from complex interactions involving genetic, environmental, neurological, and experiential factors, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
How Do Genes Influence Addiction?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) examined how genes and lifestyle choices impact smoking and alcohol use. They found hundreds of genetic locations and variants that influence these behaviors. These genes can be present in people with family members who’ve struggled with addiction, but they don’t guarantee addiction. In other words, anyone can develop a substance use problem.
The cycle of addiction is driven by the same pleasure and reward system that motivates us to do things we enjoy. When we engage in hobbies or complete rewarding tasks, our brains release dopamine, the “happy” chemical. Some people with addiction rely on drugs or alcohol to get that dopamine rush, similar to how others might depend on activities like sex, food, or gambling.
However, an imbalance in this system can lead some to turn to drugs or alcohol for quick satisfaction. This is particularly observed in conditions like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), where dopamine regulation is disrupted.
Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) identified a genetic factor linked to addiction. An RNA virus, human endogenous retrovirus-K HML-2 (HK2), is associated with a gene that regulates dopamine. This virus is more common in people with addiction.
How To Avoid Developing an Addiction
If addiction runs in your family, there are ways to reduce your risk. Learning healthy coping strategies for stress and emotions, such as meditation or exercise, can help. It’s important to recognize that you’re at a higher risk and consider healthier alternatives before resorting to drugs or alcohol.
If you’re prescribed a potentially addictive substance for a medical reason, open communication with your healthcare provider and friends can be crucial. They can provide support in choosing healthier options and monitor your use.
Get Help Before Drug or Alcohol Use Becomes an Addiction
If you find that your substance use is affecting your life, seek help immediately. A counselor or therapist can assist you in identifying triggers and managing emotions. Individual or group therapy sessions can help you develop mindfulness and emotional awareness.
A strong support system is essential when you’re at risk of addiction. Connecting with others who understand your situation can offer accountability and valuable insights.
Talk to Your Family About Addiction
Learning about your family’s history with alcohol or drugs can help you understand your risk factors. Ask family members to share their experiences and if anyone in your family struggled with substances or was diagnosed with a substance use disorder. What you learn can help you determine your risk of addiction and help you make better choices regarding your health and wellness.
If you’re concerned about your substance use, reach out for help. Recovery advisors are available 24/7 for confidential consultations to guide you toward a healthier path.