As an addict, friend of an addict, or family member of an addict, have you ever wondered why some people become addicted to drugs and alcohol while others with similar habits do not? Addiction is an incredibly complex disease that has many different attributes that contribute to its development. Of the many factors that go into addiction, genetics play a substantial role in the risk of developing an addiction.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism conducted a study in 2008 that claimed genetic factors were accountable for 40-60% of the reason people become addicted to drugs or alcohol. This genetic predisposition is significant to be aware of, for without knowing the hereditary risks, casual drinking can very quickly spiral into addiction without the user realizing it.
Addiction is a Disease
In order to understand the role genetics play in addiction, it is critical to have a full understanding of what addiction is. Addiction is a disease involving both the mind and the brain that alters the brain to become dependent on harmful substances regardless of the known dangerous consequences.
It is a self-destructive disease that once it has taken over, requires massive change, dedication, and commitment to overcome. Once an addictive substance is taken, the brain releases certain chemicals that create feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. With continued use of these substances, your body becomes dependent and relies on using the substance in order to live a typical everyday life, instead of strictly to feel happier. Like other diseases, addiction is circumstantial and is not a guarantee for everyone.
Again, similar to other diseases addiction is best overcome through treatment and the support of others. Genetics are inherited traits that are passed on from biologically related relatives. Genetics play a role in the development of many diseases, and the gene can be passed on throughout generations, often times skipping the father but affecting their son or daughter. This is why being aware of your family history can significantly lower your possibility of developing an addiction, because you know the risks of what you're engaging in.
Addiction is a disease that while it is undesired and painful is not incredibly uncommon in the world we live in. Worldwide, it has been reported that there are an estimated 240 million alcoholics, which equates to 5 percent of world population struggling with this disease. These statistics do not have to remain this high, for being aware of your family history of alcohol or drug addiction can severely reduce one’s probability of developing an addiction.
There have been numerous studies made backing genetics impact on addiction. Addictions and Recovery described a study involving pairs of identical twins and pairs of fraternal twins, proving that when an identical twin was addicted to alcohol, their other identical twin had a high probability of being addicted as well. However, when a fraternal, or non-identical twin was an addict, their fraternal twin was not as likely to have an addiction. This study resulted in the conclusion that 50-60 percent of addictions are a result of a genetic disposition.
While addiction is a topic many like to brush to the side, regarding it is a sensitive area many may not necessarily want to inform their kids of, statistics like this show why it is absolutely pivotal to have these conversations. Opening up about these relatives who have faced addiction to your family will allow your kids to be aware of the risk they are putting themselves at if or when they choose to begin drinking. It can also offer insight into why someone, in particular, has developed an addiction, versus others who engage in similar activity.
Genetic testing for addiction
For individuals who may not have the ability to learn their family history from word of mouth, there are other options to find out if you have a gene that may contribute to addiction. Genetic testing has been developed and can be done merely by swabbing the inside of an individual's mouth and having the sample sent to a lab. With the current opioid crisis that America is facing, these tests are being done by doctors to gauge how individual patients will react to different opioid and non-opioid medications, and how high or low their risk is of developing a dependency on the medications.
Proove Biosciences, out of Irvine, California claim to have developed an opioid risk test that can predict which patients will develop an addiction to prescribed opioid pain pills. The reliability of Proove’s test claims to be 93 percent accurate. There has been further research done on alcohol testing, and the ability to determine one’s chances of becoming an alcoholic. While genetic testing is still new and in the works, more and more discoveries are being made that can help eliminate future addictions from developing.
In order for an addiction to develop one must be exposed to an “addictive agent,” or a specific substance or activity that the mind and/or body can become dependent on. Of the many addictive agents, the most common include drugs, alcohol, food, sex, video games, cell phone usage, tanning, exercise, and gambling. While it is very common and likely to be exposed to these agents in everyday life, not everyone who is around these agents becomes an addict. This is where the factors that lead to development play a part, including genetics, environment, exposure, and more.
The National Association for Children of Alcoholics has claimed that while the children of alcoholic parents are automatically four times more likely to develop alcoholism, the factors are still a combination of environment, lifestyle, upbringing, mental health, socioeconomic status, and of course genetics. It has also been concluded that certain personality traits can increase one’s likeliness of developing an addiction. It is also likely that those with these personalities not only have one addiction but multiple, such as an addiction to alcohol and nicotine. This personality type is referred to as an addictive personality, and according to the National Academy of Science these individuals have the following characteristics:
- Low self-esteem
- Low tolerance for stress
- Social isolation
- Mood swings
- Insecurity in relationships
- Constantly seek approval of others
While these characteristics are commonly seen in those who develop addictions, there is not a particular set of characteristics that all addicts have, but rather significant factors that overlap. These traits also do not mean that anyone who possesses them will develop an addiction, as there is no specific personality type, but they are at a higher risk of developing one than others. It is also known that those with mental health struggles, such as depression, are more susceptible towards substance dependence.
How to Reduce your Risk
Due to the severe impact genetics have on addiction development, individuals with a family history may feel it is inevitable that they will develop the disease. This is not the case, as there are many ways individuals have control over their destiny and can reduce the possible risk of addiction. Some great ways to prevent addiction from developing at any point in life include:
- Not drinking as an adolescent
- Educating yourself on drugs and alcohol and the risks
- Maintaining healthy hobbies that keep you busy
- Talking about past traumas you may be holding onto
- Having the confidence to say no when offered drugs or alcohol
- Keeping supportive, positive influences in your lie
It is essential to keep in mind that youth are heavily influenced by their peers, be it their parents, friends, teammates, or church group. Peer pressure is very real and very alive in high school, college, and beyond. One may tell themselves they would never engage in specific behavior and then when it comes down to it they see all of their friends partaking and decide to experiment. This is where individual responsibility comes into play. With easy accessibility to drugs and alcohol in today's youth culture, the liability falls on oneself for how they will handle the situation. With a history of addiction in an individual's family, it is ideal to distance themselves from peers that are too young, or uninformed to be engaging in that type of activity.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism conducted a study that claimed young adults, between the ages of 18 and 24 had higher rates of co-occurring alcohol and other drug use disorders than any other age group. This study shows the impact that drinking as a young adult has on the likelihood of dependence and addiction. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse also identified that young adults who drink, smoke, or abuse drugs before they reach 15 years old are 6.5 times as likely to develop an addiction to one of these substances at some point in their lives than the individuals who wait until turning they are 21 to try an addictive substance.
Are You an Addict?
Do you have a history of addiction in your family, or possibly no history but are worried you may have developed an addiction? There are many ways to determine if you have an addiction, or are on the path of evolving into an addict. If you have engaged in any of the following events, it is likely that you are facing an addiction and should seek necessary help. You may be an addict if you have:
- Gotten into legal trouble because of drugs or alcohol
- Stolen money from someone in order to obtain drugs or alcohol
- Stolen the drugs or alcohol you are abusing
- Lied about your usage, or lied to obtain a prescription
- Driven under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Experienced a near-death overdose
- Experienced withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit
- Tried to quit on your own but were unsuccessful
- Lost your job due to your usage
- Been the subject of an intervention
If you have found yourself in any of these situations, or others, such as abusing drugs or alcohol in front of your kids, or spending all the money you have to fund your habits, you more likely than not are an addict. The sooner an addiction is recognized, the easier it will be to handle and deal with the consequences that follow. There is treatment and help waiting to be sought for anyone, regardless of how seemingly minute or severe things have gotten. If your family has a history of addiction than it is likely very prominent in your genetics, and this information should be shared with your counselor or doctor upon going to rehabilitation.
Take the Next Step
Are you, a family member, a friend, or an acquaintance struggling with substance abuse or alcohol addiction? The hardest, but most important step to make is acknowledging the situation you are in, and realizing you no longer want to keep living this way. Stop allowing this addiction to dictate your life and your opportunities today by reaching out for help. In addiction recovery centers you will be exposed to a judgment-free space where you will have the chance to detox, heal, grow, and develop into the best version of yourself. Surrounded by compassionate staff and other individuals who are experiencing similar difficulties as yourself, treatment programs are powerful centers of change and discovery. At Landmark Recovery, we are dedicated to creating a supportive environment for recovery through trust, treatment, and intervention. We cater plans toward specific individual needs to ensure the best treatment, diagnosis, and goals are developed and obtained. Landmark Recovery wants to help you tackle this disease and begin your journey to lifelong recovery and sobriety, call us today!