Is Addiction a Genetic Disease?

DNA molecule

This is a question, like most questions involving the complexity of human genes, that doesn’t have a simple “yes” or “no” answer. The short answer is that genetics can influence an individual’s risk of developing an addiction. 

Research has shown that heredity and genetics account for about half of a person’s vulnerability to addiction. In other words, an individual whose father was a drug addict or alcoholic is more likely to become an addict than a person whose parents did not suffer from addiction.

However, genetics is too complex to assume that a person is destined for addiction because a parent was an addict. Similarly, a person with a family history of addiction should not live in fear of becoming an addict. This person might be more susceptible, but addiction is hardly inevitable. 

There is no single gene that determines whether a person will develop an addiction. While simple characteristics such as eye color can be determined by as little as one gene, the risk of addiction is far more complicated. There are a number of factors, including variations and mutations of inherited genes, and each has an impact on addiction risk. 

Connecting the Dots between Addiction and Genetics

Genes have a role in how the human body processes toxins. For example, there are various genes that “oversee” how your body processes alcohol, breaks it down and removes it from your body. People who can effectively process alcohol are less likely to develop an addiction to alcohol.

Genes also affect a person’s temperament. A person who tends to be impulsive and take risks is more likely to become addicted. How you respond to stress is largely controlled by genes as well. People who respond to everyday stress with “fight or flight,” which is supposed to be reserved for extreme duress, trauma, or tragedy, are more prone to addiction. 

Some people have genetic variations that affect the processing of chemicals in the brain and the function of neurotransmitters, which create feelings of pleasure and reward. This can make a person more likely or less likely to become addicted to certain substances. The level of risk also varies based on the substance being abused.

The lesson here is that the connection between genetics and addiction isn’t just hereditary. While heredity and addiction may be linked, the role of various genetic factors in addiction is far too complex to suggest that addiction is solely a genetic disease.

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Two generations with same eye color

What Is Epigenetics?

Epigenetics is the study of how individual genes are expressed (turned on or off) by behaviors, diet, stress, toxins, the environment, and other factors. For example, identical twins may share the same genes, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be equally healthy for the rest of their lives, or even part of their lives.

There is a big difference between the presence of a gene and the expression of a gene. As mentioned previously, children of addicts are more likely to suffer from addiction. However, many of these individuals do not develop addictions to drugs or even alcohol. This is due in large part to lifestyle choices that prevent the expression of harmful genes and promote the expression of helpful genes. 

Epigenetics tells us that genes help to define an individual but do not seal an individual’s fate, positively or negatively. Although people often chalk up poor health, including addiction and other chronic diseases, to bad genes, they have more control over their health than they realize.

How Discover Recovery Treatment Center Can Help

If you or someone you know has a family history of addiction, it’s important to realize that inheriting a person’s genes does not guarantee a person will become a future addict. At the same time, anyone who shows signs of addiction should seek help immediately.

At Discover Recovery in Long Beach, our holistic rehab approach acknowledges how many different factors, and not just genetics, can be influenced and affected by addiction. How a person behaves and functions is often just as important to their health as their genetic code. 

To learn more about holistic treatment for addiction and how genetics affects the risk of becoming an addict, contact Discover Recovery today.

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