Is Addiction Genetic? Causes of Addiction
Addiction has long been one of the most complex chronic conditions to understand. For many years, a lack of understanding regarding addiction caused treatment protocols to be much less effective than they could’ve been. In recent years, research has helped addiction professionals and the medical community, at least, better understand the genetic considerations inherent in addiction for some people.
Understanding the causes of addiction is imperative in helping to resolve some of the gaps in the system that have prevented people from truly getting addiction treatment when they need it most. Overcoming addiction is challenging, and the right protocols in place can help people who’ve been struggling finally break free from the rigors of addiction. Understanding the causes of substance abuse disorders is one of the best ways to create programs that help, and acknowledging the role genetics plays is a first step.
What Is the Correlation Between Addiction and Genetic Predisposition?
Research shows that susceptibility to substance abuse may be linked to genetic causes. Understanding genetic predisposition to addictive behaviors can inform more effective treatment options and give better insight among medical professionals about the rigors of recovery from substance use disorders. Moreover, acknowledging the ways addiction may be genetic has spurred the medical community to consider possible ways to test for it. Gene expression that correlates to addiction may inform specific forms of testing that make it easier to determine who might require early intervention where possible substance use issues are concerned.
This could be life-changing for those struggling with using illicit substances, as testing for predisposition to addiction could generate early prevention methods. According to the American Psychological Association, the D2 dopamine receptor may help predict whether a person will become addicted to heroin, cocaine or alcohol. Research suggests that people with fewer numbers of these receptors may have a greater likelihood of addiction than those who have more of them. The number of receptors people have is a genetic determination. Therefore, if research allows health care providers to pinpoint the involvement of multiple genes, this may in turn contribute to more effective treatment protocols. In the future, establishing people with addiction genes may allow very early intervention to prevent addiction.
Addiction Is Considered an Inheritable Condition
Among the challenges of genetic expression where addiction is concerned is the inheritable factor. Those who have first-degree relatives who’ve had substance abuse issues (parents and siblings, for instance) may be more likely to struggle with addiction than those who don’t.
A history of trauma or lack of mental wellness among family members may also be an inheritable factor where addiction is concerned.
Other Causes of Addiction
While genetic factors may be the cause of addiction in some people, other factors can contribute to the development of drug addiction.
Environmental factors certainly play a role in perpetuating addiction, as a person has to have access to drugs or alcohol to begin using them in the first place. From this point, genetic expression may determine a person’s risk for addiction once they have this access. Additional environmental considerations include:
- Peer pressure: Many people begin to struggle with drug addiction after being exposed to substances by their peers. This is especially so among adolescents, who may be pressured by social groups to dabble in substances and end up becoming addicted.
- Home environment: If you’re living in an environment where drugs and alcohol are constantly present and abuse is the norm, this can then perpetuate your own drug abuse over time.
- Parental drug and alcohol use/abuse: If you grew up watching your parents use/abuse alcohol or drugs routinely, this exposure may set you up to do the same.
- Community context: Communities in which drug abuse is rampant or even acceptable may create a greater likelihood and risk of addiction for those living there than communities where there’s no tolerance for the presence of drugs and alcohol. This goes back to the notion of access and the idea that the more access a person has to drugs and alcohol, the more likely they are to use.
While there may be other environmental causes of addiction, these are among the most common and speak to the idea that even if there is a genetic predisposition to substance abuse, environmental factors tend to play almost as big a role as genetics in some instances.
Trauma is one of the most common factors in the cultivation of substance abuse. This is especially true among those who’ve had adverse childhood experiences that continue to affect them into their adult years. Trauma can have a lasting impact on a person’s physical and emotional health, causing the development of substance abuse behaviors. Common traumas that perpetuate addiction include:
- Sexual abuse
- Physical abuse
- Childhood neglect
- Verbal abuse
- Dealing with a family member with substance use disorder or mental illness
- Witnessing violence
The more stress you experience as a child and the less it’s been addressed through proper channels like therapy, the more vulnerable you may be to substance abuse. This isn’t the case for every person, but it’s considered one of the more common causes of drug abuse.
Untreated or mismanaged mental health is another common cause of addiction in many people. When you’re struggling with poor mental health and haven’t received the treatment you need, you may be more likely to seek a solution for your suffering wherever you can find it — even if the solution is illicit substances. In fact, the link between drug addiction and mental illness is very strong and is one of the reasons many treatment facilities offer treatment for both poor mental health and addiction.
This is especially pertinent for individuals who struggle with mood disorders such as anxiety or depression. The mental pain is often so great that the individual will do anything to get relief. People who are both mentally unwell and struggling with addiction are considered to have a dual diagnosis. Establishing this from a medical perspective helps inform better treatment perspectives. The complex interactions between mental illness and addiction require intervention on both fronts to fix one or the other.
Even those who are receiving treatment for mental illness may struggle with substance abuse, depending on the condition and the efficacy of the treatment. Treating mental illness effectively is challenging, and because brain chemistry is constantly changing, interventions that have been working for a time may stop being as effective with little to no warning. When this happens, individuals may not understand why they’re suddenly feeling worse again mentally and may begin to self-medicate as a result.
Are You Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol?
Addiction manifests differently in everyone, so those struggling with addiction may display just one sign of addiction or many. Some of the more common signs of drug and alcohol addiction include:
- Spending large amounts of time on behaviors or activities that will help you obtain alcohol or drugs
- Trying to stop using substances without success
- Expressing a craving or overwhelming desire to use drugs or alcohol
- Substance use that makes it challenging for you to fulfill your daily obligations at home or work
- Choosing to use drugs and alcohol despite negative impacts on relationships and situations in your life
Recognizing some of the signs of addiction is one of the first steps to getting the help you need and beginning the road to recovery. Some of these signs may not be obvious yet, or you may not feel your life is being negatively impacted by your substance use. However, the earlier you get help for your substance use issues, the more likely it is that you can successfully recover. So even one or two signs is enough to indicate a need for assistance.
No Matter the Cause of Addiction, Recovery is Possible
No matter what the cause of your addiction is, the truth is that recovery is possible. Even in situations where genetics is a factor, there may be ways to overcome the issue with the right substance abuse treatment protocols. Despite the possible genes involved in determining addictive patterns, and how insurmountable that may feel if you are trying to begin the path to recovery, working with the right treatment program can change your trajectory where drugs and alcohol use are concerned.
Click here to learn more about how addiction treatment can help you get your life back on track, even if genetics play a role in your issues with substance use disorder.