How Genetics Influence Addiction

Substance abuse affects everyone differently, which is what makes addiction an unpredictable disease. One person may become addicted after using a drug only one time, while another occasionally uses the drug for years without developing a dependence. Environmental and social factors play a big role in whether or not a person will form an addiction, but research shows that genetics are a big part of the equation as well.

Many genetic factors are involved

There’s not one single gene that determines whether a person is more or less likely to be affected by addiction. However, a combination of genes can work together to form a  genetic susceptibility or predisposition toward addiction.  Here are some examples of how genetic factors can influence addiction:

  • Withdrawal symptoms may be more or less severe.
  • Some genes make it easier or more difficult to quit.
  • The same drug could make one person feel great and another feel sick.
  • The brain responds differently to stimulation from certain drugs.

These are general descriptions of complicated studies, but they illustrate the point that more than one genetic factor could be at work in each addict. There’s not an “addiction gene” that determines fate, but rather a number of genetic factors that feed into or discourage addictive behaviors.

No one is born an addict

Not everyone who has a strong family history of addiction is  doomed to live an addictive lifestyle because social and environmental factors affect these patterns as well. Those who do have a genetic makeup that increases the risk for addiction can still avoid this disease by exercising care when using addictive substances. If you are aware of addictive behavior in your family, take care in how you approach potentially addictive substances.  It may be best to refrain from using any drugs or alcohol at all, unless the drug is prescribed and monitored closely by a doctor.

Mental illness and social disorders also increase the likelihood of addiction. Therefore, if you struggle with a mental illness or social disorder, you should also exercise caution when using, if at all, addictive substances.

Genetic discoveries can aid in treatment

Understanding the science of how addiction develops in different types of people can help us educate others to make informed choices. Clear knowledge of how a substance is likely to affect you can help you understand your risk and avoid having to endure the pain of addiction.

Also, genetic information about addiction can help the medical community develop new medications for treating substance abuse. For example, if researchers are able to isolate a genetic function that contributes to the development of an addiction, they could then create a drug that balances or modifies its activity to counteract the damage that addiction has done and restore normal brain function.

Will genetics solve the problem of addiction?

In your own life, understanding your family history and what part genetics play can help you avoid addiction. But knowing the risk doesn’t always keep people from becoming addicted, because addiction is a cunning beast that disguises itself with excuses.

While future medical advances may significantly reduce the effects of addiction and improve addiction treatment, it’s uncertain that addiction will be cured through genetics. Thankfully, we don’t have to wait on scientific research before doing anything because the addiction treatment options we already have do work. Whether or not you have a family history of addiction, you can seek help today.