Family Support

Is Addiction Hereditary?

Whether you’re battling addiction yourself or have a loved one impacted by the condition, it’s natural and expected to wonder if addiction is hereditary. Understanding how predisposition toward substance use disorder can be passed down through your family can help you protect yourself or, if you’re already impacted, contextualize the origins of your substance abuse to create a better and more informed recovery. Addiction can be hereditary, but there is much more to the proverbial story.

How Hereditary Is Addiction?

First, let’s get something straight: you will not automatically develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol just because your parents did, and you can’t always point squarely to heredity as the cause of your substance abuse. There are many environmental, experiential, and behavioral layers that contribute to the onset and continuation of substance use.

It’s true, however, that children of addicted parents have a greater likelihood of early and more extreme substance use; heredity and genetic predisposition can play a significant role in this cycle.

An established and growing body of research reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicates genetics can dictate up to 50 percent of a person’s risk of developing alcohol or drug addiction. The research includes studies of identical and fraternal twins, adopted children, and biological siblings. Additional research led by Yale University indicates that genetics have somewhere between a 40 and 60 percent influence on addiction.

What Makes Addiction Hereditary?

The primary genetic factor of inherited addiction tendencies is the neurotransmitter dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for producing pleasurable feelings in the brain associated with substance abuse.

Higher levels of dopamine can translate to poor impulse control, which is a critical factor in substance use disorder. Children whose parents pass down these higher dopamine levels can have a genetic predisposition toward the same lack of impulse control.

Additionally, researchers from Oxford recently found that a specific type of RNA virus called human endogenous retrovirus-K HML-2, or HK2, can integrate with dopamine regulation genes to increase the risk of substance use disorder.

Environmental Factors and Genetics

Once again, these genetic factors do not automatically mean that children of addicted parents follow the same path, but it does mean that you should be more mindful of the environmental and lifestyle factors that can exacerbate them.

Stress and other negative environmental factors can create epigenetic changes that can trigger the development of psychiatric disorders and drug addiction, according to reporting from Harvard University. In a cruel bit of irony, children of addicted parents very often grow up in stressful situations that can trigger these changes.

Simply put, if you know you have these genetic risks, you can keep them in mind to manage and measure your responses to stress, dysfunction, and other adverse situations to minimize risk.

Addiction Runs in My Family. What Should I Do?

You can use your awareness of your family history in many ways, depending on how substance abuse is impacting your life. Here are just some of the ways you can turn this knowledge into power:

If You’ve Become Addicted

Seek treatment now and work with your care provider to explore the specific origins and impact of family involvement in your addiction, both genetic and environmental. These insights can help inform an aftercare plan when you complete treatment. You may also want to tell your recovery coach or sponsor about your genetic predisposition so they can help you during more vulnerable situations.

If You’ve Started Drinking too Much or Using Drugs

Start working with a mental health professional (psychiatrist, therapist, counselor, etc.) to alert them of these issues and reverse course. They may recommend outpatient treatment or, if you’re just starting to be affected, recommend lifestyle factors such as removing or reducing the factors in your life associated with substance use.

If You’re Just Worried about What Could Happen

Keep an eye on your social drinking and make an active effort to avoid situations and relationships where drugs are a factor. It’s also always a good idea to work with a therapist if these issues are affecting your life in any way, whether it’s the way you process trauma, relate to people, or anything else.

In all situations, it helps to have frank and honest conversations with your addicted parents to let them know you’re aware of your family history and how their substance abuse has impacted your life.

Your Dopamine is Not Your Destiny

You don’t have to be defined by your biology when it comes to alcohol and drug addiction. Just because addiction runs in your family doesn’t mean it has to derail your life. If you or someone you care about is battling addiction or are starting to become impacted by alcohol or drug use, Recovery Unplugged is ready to help.

We thoroughly believe that while family factors can drive substance abuse, it can also be part of the healing process. This is why our Family Program is meant to help our clients’ closest loved ones understand the disease of addiction and their role in their loved one’s recovery. Healing the family dynamic is critical for post-treatment harmony and success in long-term recovery.

Recovery Unplugged offers locations across the country and is in-network with most major insurance companies. Call us now to get the help you need.


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