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addiction genes

It’s important to understand that addiction may have a genetic component that affects your risk of addiction and growing up in a home where substance abuse is prevalent also makes you more susceptible to the disease. However, your family background shouldn’t mean that you’re doomed to spend your life battling the condition. This article examines the role of genetics in the development of addiction and discusses how to break the cycle.

Many diseases run in families, and addiction is one of these conditions. It’s not unusual to see three or more generations ravaged by the disease. If you have family members who struggle with substance abuse, you may have a greater genetic vulnerability to addiction. There’s a greater chance that you may have a higher risk of developing addiction and similar problems with alcohol or drugs.

Genetics and Substance Abuse: What is the Risk of Addiction Across Generations?

Generational addiction is more common than you might realize. Although the research regarding genetics and substance abuse is complex, it’s clear that generational addiction is a real concern. According to one study, about 80 million Americans either has a spouse with alcoholism, a family member with alcoholism or grew up with alcoholic parents.1

Research consistently shows that children who have at least one parent with a substance use disorder are four times more likely to develop a substance abuse problem themselves. These children might feel shame or embarrassment about their situation, and they’re often reluctant to seek help. Without some type of intervention to stop the cycle, it’s no surprise that addiction often spans multiple generations in a family.

Is Addiction Genetic?

Many people ask the question, “Is addiction genetic?” often to understand their friend or loved one’s behavior. The truth is, genetics play an important role in the development of drug or alcohol addiction; in fact, research shows that about 40 to 60 percent of an individual’s susceptibility to addiction is related to hereditary factors.2 Although a person’s genetic makeup can certainly increase the risk of addiction, environmental factors also play a part. Growing up in a household where substance abuse was occurring can influence your attitude toward drugs or alcohol, and an unstable childhood environment can also increase your risk for addiction.3

What is a Genetic Addiction Risk Score?

Researchers have now developed what’s known as the Genetic Addiction Risk Score (GARS). According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Bioscience, GARS is the first test to accurately predict vulnerability to pain, addiction, and other compulsive behaviors, defined as Reward Deficiency Syndrome (RDS), which is a set of behaviors that are believed to be caused by an altered chemical balance in the brain4

To put it simply, the Genetic Addiction Risk Score can identify a person’s genetic predisposition toward addictive behaviors and personality disorders with a single cheek swab. The test looks at these four behaviors to determine a person’s likelihood of developing addictive behaviors and/or personality disorders:

  • Addictive behaviors
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
  • Personality disorders (narcissism, avoidant, dependent, paranoid, schizoid, etc.)

Although a test like this cannot prevent a person from developing a drug or alcohol addiction, it could be used for preventative purposes. For example, if you know you are genetically more inclined to develop a substance use disorder, you may decide to abstain from all alcohol and drug use. Or, you may choose to see a therapist on a regular basis to establish healthy coping mechanisms that discourage the use of drugs or alcohol as a crutch.

Knowing your genetic vulnerability to addiction is powerful knowledge and you or your loved ones can use that knowledge to prevent the continuation of drug and alcohol abuse in your family.

Breaking the Cycle of Generational Addiction

Breaking the cycle of generational addiction only requires three things:

  • Admitting that you have a problem with drugs and alcohol.
  • Being willing to ask for help and accept it.
  • Working hard and committing to a life in recovery.

Once you are ready to accept help, there’s nothing stopping you from breaking the cycle of chronic relapse and addiction in your family and living a full and satisfying sober life.

Addiction may have a strong hereditary link, but it doesn’t have to be your destiny. If you believe you may have a genetic propensity toward addiction, it may be wise to avoid using these substances in any amount. Not using any addictive substances will greatly reduce your likelihood of ever developing a substance use disorder, regardless of genetics.

For people who may already be struggling with substance abuse, treatment can help you break free of addiction and turn your life around. In drug rehab, you’ll learn about the nature of addiction, and you’ll explore the influence your family background and environment had on your substance use disorder. You’ll also gain valuable life skills and relapse prevention strategies that will help you maintain your sobriety and “deal with life on life’s terms” instead of letting life circumstances control your behaviors and attitudes.

Both genetic and environmental factors fuel the cycle of addiction in families; if you have a parent or other close family member with a substance abuse problem, your risk of addiction may be higher. However, you don’t need to become another statistic. With the right treatment, you can overcome your family history and break the cycle of addiction.

Begin Your Addiction Recovery Today

If you’re looking for an addiction treatment center, Nova Recovery Center may be the right place for you. Located in the beautiful Texas hill country, Nova operates inpatient and outpatient treatment programs that are completely tailored to the individual. Our licensed clinical services are customizable and can be combined with peer recovery support services (PRSS) to maximize each client’s success for long-term recovery.

Despite what your genetics say about you, Nova Recovery Center can help you redefine your life and learn how to live without drugs or alcohol. Don’t wait another day to get started. Call 855.834.6682 to speak to an admissions representative today.



  1. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2013/aug/08/breaking-the-cycle-of-addiction-in-families/
  2. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-abuse-addiction
  3. https://ncadd.org/about-addiction/faq/frequently-asked-questions-and-facts-about-alcohol-and-drugs
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28930612
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