Is Addiction Inherited?

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Many people ask, is addiction inherited? The answer is yes, it is possible to inherit an increased propensity (or hereditary tendency) for substance misuse. Indeed, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), “At least half of a person’s tendency for drug or alcohol addiction may be traced back to inherited factors.”

However, genetic susceptibility does not guarantee that an individual will acquire an addiction, and understanding the second side of that equation is critical in identifying a person’s risk for addiction. According to the APA, “propensity isn’t destiny.”

What Is the Difference Between Genetics and Heredity?

Genetics and heredity are commonly used interchangeably; however, critical differences must be considered when addressing the question, “Is addiction inherited?”

The study of genes or heredity is referred to as genetics. Genes are DNA units handed down from parents that determine specific physical and mental characteristics. Genes reside on chromosomes. Human chromosomes contain around 20,000 genes. People have 46 chromosomes, which are divided into 23 pairs. Individuals receive one pair from their mother and one from their father, which occurs randomly. People share half of their DNA with first-degree relatives such as parents, siblings, and offspring.

Heredity is the process through which various qualities and features are handed down from parents to offspring via changes in genes and the DNA sequence. An inherited attribute is determined by genetics. Specific physical characteristics, such as height and eye color, are inherited. However, not all qualities are solely inherited, and it is important to remember that the environment influences the expression of many genes.

In addition, exposure to drugs or stress in a person’s social or cultural environment can alter both gene expression and gene function, which, in some cases, may persist throughout a person’s life.

Genetics and Addiction: Is Addiction Inherited?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIH, emphasizes that addiction is a brain illness. It is a sickness that causes “functional alterations to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control.” The American Medical Association, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Psychiatric Association agree that addiction is primarily a mental condition rather than a physical condition.

When determining if someone is predisposed to substance usage because a blood family member is addicted, it is critical to consider all risk variables, including biological factors of addiction.


Untreated or poorly managed mental illness is frequently a significant risk factor for drug misuse. According to the National Institute of Health, genes and environmental stresses on gene expression account for 40-to-60 percent of an individual’s addiction risk. ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia are all genetic mental health disorders.

According to the NIH, while men are more likely to use illegal drugs and have a greater prevalence of dependency, biological factors of addiction imply that women may be more vulnerable to seeking and relapse.

The medical community does not recognize “addictive personality” as a distinct entity. However, various personality features can be linked with addiction, including impulsive tendencies, nonconformity, and impairment of metabolic, physiological, or psychological processes.


Can drugs alter your DNA? Research has clearly shown that when exposed to drug use within their social environment, an individual may experience a change in gene expression and a change in gene function.

Early childhood interactions in the home and with family significantly raise a person’s risk of drug misuse. Children exposed to dangerous settings and family members who use drugs or alcohol have more severe behavioral difficulties, typically leading to experimentation.

Peers and friends have a lot of effects, especially on teenagers. Even if a young child does not have a genetic predisposition to substance misuse, the need to fit in, a lack of adequate supervision, weak social skills, and neighborhood poverty all play a role in the addiction process.

However, as genetics isn’t an absolute causation factor for addiction, neither are environmental factors. For example, medical specialists think most children with parents who struggle with addiction do not acquire drug use disorders.


According to research, children and adolescents who witness traumatic situations are more likely to engage in substance misuse. If not adequately handled, trauma lowers one’s capacity to be resilient and cope with life’s obstacles, particularly in a dysfunctional setting. This raises the risk that a person would self-medicate to cope with challenging events or painful memories.

The extent of trauma is enormous. Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; neglect or abandonment; family or social violence; bereavement and other significant loss; and war, terrorism, or refugee displacement are all examples.

If a person is predisposed to substance misuse and has experienced severe trauma, it may be challenging to refrain from abusing drugs or alcohol to excess.

Genetics and Addiction: Is It Real?

You might be wondering, “is there an addiction gene?” There isn’t an exact single gene for addiction or alcoholism; however, scientists have uncovered multiple genes linked to addiction, including genes linked to addiction to particular drugs. Although studies on this subject are ongoing, a few genes connected with addiction, and those linked with addiction prevention, include:

  • ADH1B (aldehyde dehydrogenase 1) and ADH2 (aldehyde dehydrogenase 2) — These genes are involved in alcohol metabolism. Individuals with higher ADH1B activity or lower ALDH2 activity may experience unpleasant feelings if they drink alcohol; such variations in gene expression may have a preventive effect against alcoholism.
  • CHRM2 and GABRA2 — These genes have been associated with alcohol use disorder (AUD), a medical illness characterized by the inability to stop drinking despite unfavorable effects. Furthermore, these genes appear to be highly linked to early-onset alcoholism.
  • MAOA, SLC6A4, COMT, and other genes linked to stress tolerance — Individual variances in stress responses may exist in people with these genes, which may impact addiction when paired with other effects.

Can Drugs Alter Your DNA?

Environmental exposures or individual choices can “mark”—or remodel—the structure of DNA at the cellular or even organismal level. So, while each cell type in the human body retains the same genetic material, epigenetic regulatory mechanisms allow distinct cell types to grow in response to the environment. These epigenetic markers can have an impact on health and even the expression of features passed on to offspring.

When a person consumes cocaine, for example, it might mark the DNA, boosting the creation of proteins that are frequent in addiction—increased amounts of these altered proteins in animals related to drug-seeking behavior.

Get Your Family Ready

Transparency is essential for keeping family members healthy. Being upfront and honest about a pattern of drug abuse problem is the first line of defense.

Consider this: if your family had another inherited health problem, such as sickle cell disease or breast cancer, you’d talk about it, right? It is not shameful to assist your loved ones in avoiding risk factors and recognizing the significant indications of probable generational drug misuse.

Create protective factors because just as there are risk factors for addiction, there are also protective variables that can assist in lowering those risks, particularly in youngsters. Provide sufficient adult supervision and support; adopt positive self-control strategies; encourage engaging socializing methods; establish the intrinsic rewards of goal setting and completion; and seek out community resources that reinforce the above.

Key Takeaway

Even if you have a genetic predisposition for addiction, you may make efforts to manage your risk and reduce your chances of being addicted. If you or someone you care about is battling genetic addiction, you should know that therapy can help you get started on the road to recovery.

Treatment may help you understand your addiction and its triggers; Treatment will also teach you how to avoid relapse and improve stress management and coping skills, enabling you to stop using drugs and alcohol to perform these functions. An addiction treatment center should be tailored to your specific needs, which may involve physical and psychological health as well as social, occupational, legal, and other requirements.

Haven House Recovery’s Program Is for You

At Haven House Recovery, we recognize that addiction is a disease that can destroy a person and their family. Here at Haven House, we have specific rehabilitation and recovery programs that help people heal, rehabilitate, and achieve long-term recovery.

If you’re seeking treatment, Haven House treatment centers are an excellent option. Our centers of addiction recovery in Santa Rosa Beach FL, are among the most successful treatment facilities, offering 12-step Christian-based programs. Attempting to quit using addictive drugs on your own is dangerous, with a high likelihood of recurrence due to various unpleasant symptoms. Contact us to learn about treatment options that can lead to a life free of addiction.