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Genetics and Substance Abuse: Is Addiction Inherited?

Table of Contents

Are some people genetically predisposed to addiction and physical dependence on drugs or alcohol? Do drug and alcohol problems run in families?
Scientists suggest heredity may play a large role in why some people become addicted or dependent on drugs, while others do not. In fact, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence says that family history is the single more reliable indicator of risk for substance abuse problems.
When a person decides to use drugs or alcohol, it is a choice. Environmental factors, such as peer pressure, social traditions, and availability, can greatly influence the choice to use alcohol or drugs. However, once a person uses drugs or alcohol, he has no choice about how the substance will affect his body or his mind.

Body Chemistry

Some people’s bodies and chemistry react differently to drugs and alcohol than other individuals. Some people can use these substances for a certain period of time for recreational or, in the case of opiate drugs, therapeutic reasons without developing an addiction to those substances. Other people are more sensitive to the side effects of drugs and alcohol. The metabolism of many people reacts to exposure to drugs or alcohol by developing an addiction to or physical dependence on that substance.
Genetics plays an important role in how the body reacts to changes in its environment. Genes provide essential information – a blueprint – that directs how our bodies respond at the cellular level. Slight variations in human genes create substantial differences between individuals. In fact, more than 99 percent of genes are the same from one human to the next, and less than 1 percent is different. This 1 percent variation accounts for visible differences, such as height, hair color, and eye color. This 1 percent variation also accounts for differing risks for diabetes, heart disease, and addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Genetics is a Major Contributor to the Risk of Addiction

Research shows that heredity is responsible for 40 to 60 percent of a person’s vulnerability to addiction. This means you can inherit a predisposition to addiction. You are more likely to develop an addiction or physical dependence if you have a family history of such substance abuse.
There is no such thing as an “addiction gene.” Research suggests the genetic predisposition for addiction occurs when small abnormalities occur in a group of genes.
Someone born with a genetic predisposition is not automatically doomed to become an addict. Environmental factors can affect the way these genes express themselves. This means the environment of a drug-friendly home promotes the activity of genes involved in addiction, while a drug-free environment suppresses this group of genes’ activity.
Exposure to drugs or alcohol is also essential to the development of addiction or physical dependence – even a genetically predisposed person will never become addicted to opiates if he never uses or ingests the drug. Physical or emotional irregularities, circumstances, conditions, or even trauma increase the likelihood that a person will seek to  “self-medicate” with drugs or alcohol.
If you or someone you love needs help dealing with genetics and substance abuse or addiction, contact Waismann Method®. Our opiate detoxification experts are always glad to help you find the available drug treatment options and detoxification methods you need to become free from substance abuse and opiate physical dependence.



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