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Is addiction genetic or environmental? In fact, a person’s risk for addiction is influenced by a combination of both their genetics and the environment in which they currently live and/or grew up. The more risk factors a person has, the higher the chance that using drugs could lead to addiction. Below are some of the factors in a person’s environment that may put them at a higher risk:

  • Economic position
  • Peer pressure
  • Sexual and physical abuse
  • Early introduction to drugs
  • Friends and family use
  • Stress
  • Quality of day-to-day life

So, is addiction genetic or environmental? Keep reading to find out. 

How Do These Factors Influence Addiction?

Economic Position — Are You Lower or Upper Class?

Your economic position is defined by your income level. There are three different levels of economic positions. They are:

  • Upper Class: This income level makes up about 1% to 3% of the American population. They own more than 25% of the total income in this country.
  • Middle Class: Typically, the middle class is made up of “white-collar” employees whose income is higher than those in the lower levels, but less than the upper-class level.
  • Lower Class: This income level is characterized by poverty, homelessness, and unemployment. Problems that individuals in this class have to cope with include adequate food and housing, proper clothing, medical care, and general feelings of safety.


Many of the risk factors for drug and alcohol abuse are more common in families with a lower income level. About 20% of people who are welfare recipients admitted to using illicit drugs in the past year. 

Research has revealed that an individual earning less than $20,000 per year has a one-third lower chance of recovering from cocaine abuse than someone who earns over $70,000 per year. The place of employment may also determine economic level and have an effect on the likelihood of drug use. One study showed that 19% of full-time workers, 15% of part-time workers, and 23% of unemployed people had tried cocaine at least one time.


Homelessness and substance abuse frequently go together. Statistics from 2003 showed that 38% of homeless people were addicted to alcohol and 26% were addicted to opioids. Ironically, substance abuse is often the cause of homelessness. Despite this, people who are homeless frequently turn to substances to deal with their emotions and problems.

Can Poverty Cause Addiction?

The income level you belong to or the amount of money you actually have has a relatively low impact on the likelihood of addiction, however. Drug abuse being more common among people who live in poverty or who have a low economic level has given rise to the false theory that poverty causes addiction. 

Substance abuse appears to be a result of the lifestyles of individuals on the lower economic level. The indirect relationship between addiction and lower income levels is usually spread through many underlying factors instead of a single cause.

As an example, an individual with no medical coverage may use an illicit drug to relieve pain from an injury or illness. This can unconsciously pass on the habit of drug abuse to their children. This is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. There are many risk factors that are more common in homes on the lower economic levels than on the higher levels.

Peer Pressure

Peers are people who are part of the same social group, and peer pressure can be positive or negative. Peer pressure can often lead someone to do things they wouldn’t do otherwise, just to try to fit in or be noticed. Adolescents are especially open to peer pressure. They are typically looking for social acceptance and willing to take part in behaviors that are against their better judgment just to be accepted.

Hanging around with peers who participate in risky behaviors like drug abuse is another major risk factor for addiction. For adolescents, this is particularly true. Picking friends who don’t abuse drugs or alcohol can help a person avoid drug dependency and addiction.

Physical and Sexual Abuse (Interpersonal Trauma)

There is a lot of evidence that shows a close relationship between interpersonal violence and substance abuse. In a study of 3,000 women who were followed for two years, interpersonal assault increased the use of alcohol and drugs, even in women who didn’t have a history of substance abuse previously. And for both men and women, previous physical and sexual abuse was significantly linked with more substance abuse consequences.

Early Introduction to Substance Abuse

The availability of addictive substances in a person’s home, school, or community is clearly one of the risk factors for developing a substance abuse problem. For example, the abuse of prescription drugs is occurring at the same time as a notable rise in medical prescriptions. The increased availability and accepted use in the home, coupled with a lack of understanding about the dangers, increases the risk of use and addiction. 

The Influence of Family Members

Drug and alcohol abuse by a person’s parents during childhood can result in drug and alcohol abuse by that person in adulthood. Parents who drink alcohol are four times more likely to have children who become alcohol dependent. A parent’s involvement in drug abuse is likely to influence a child to use drugs because they have grown up where substance use was a regular part of life.

In the question, “Is addiction genetic or environmental,” there is some evidence that shows the impact of a person’s environment. One study of 559 people showed the direct relationship between the condition of the family and the degree of drug abuse. It showed that drug addicts come primarily from unhealthy and incomplete families. Also:

  • Addicts have weaker family ties than people who don’t use drugs
  • Addicts come from homes where there is a lot of hostility
  • Alcohol was used in nearly 50% of families where drugs were used


Stress may be defined as a physical or emotional demand or strain (stressor) that causes your body to release powerful neurochemicals and hormones. These changes are important to help your body prepare to respond to the stressor. Short-term stress can help you focus but long-term stress can cause serious health problems. Traumatic events, such as natural disasters, violence, and terrorism, can cause a serious illness called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Research on the brain now reveals that people exposed to stress are more likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs. Researchers at  the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have discovered the following links between stress and drug abuse:

  • Stress can cause changes in the brain similar to those caused by addictive substances. This indicates that some people who experience stress may be more susceptible to addiction.
  • Individuals who become addicted to drugs may be overly sensitive to stress.
  • Stress can raise a person’s risk for substance abuse.
  • Scientists have discovered a rise in substance abuse among people in the New York City neighborhoods impacted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Quality of Life

Individuals who abuse substances often look for help to quit drugs and alcohol to escape the negative consequences they have experienced and to attain a better life. Therefore, the aim of substance abuse treatment is not just to promote abstinence but to help the person improve their quality of life.

In a sample of substance use disorder (SUD) patients, the characteristics linked with a poorer quality of life include:

  • Depression
  • Physical inactivity
  • Negative body image
  • Social isolation

The Role of Genetics

Is addiction genetic or environmental? The answer is “both.” Addictive disorders are complicated conditions that arise from a number of genetic and environmental risk factors. The genes that a person is born with cause about half of their risk for addiction. Some genes that are involved in vulnerability to addiction include both genes that are susceptible to certain substances and those that act on common brain pathways that are involved in addiction to different substances. Also, other influences include:

  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Having other mental disorders

Addiction and Mental Development

Environmental and genetic factors also affect each other during important stages of development in a person’s life. Although abusing substances at any age can lead to addiction, the earlier it starts, the more likely it is to result in addiction. This is a particular problem for teens. The areas in their brains that control judgment, decision-making, and self-control are still not fully developed, making them especially susceptible to risky behaviors like substance use.

Treating Substance Use Disorders

These days, SUDs are more often seen as chronic conditions and treatment facilities are using models that are used to treat other chronic conditions. These models take into account the impact of disease and services on the patient’s total well-being. Looking at it this way, treatment for addiction aims for the wider goal of recovery, with recovery defined as abstinence plus improved quality of life. To that end, many treatment programs incorporate holistic therapy practices to treat the whole person, body, mind, and spirit.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient or residential programs where the individual lives at the treatment facility with round-the-clock supervision help to reduce the environmental influence on addiction. This type of program is crucial in cases of severe addiction, lack of support in the home environment, and for people who have relapsed.

Outpatient Treatment

There are several levels of outpatient treatment. They differ in intensity and amount of time spent at the treatment facility. These outpatient programs are helpful for people who have: 

  • A mild addiction
  • Completed a higher level of treatment
  • A safe, stable, and supportive home environment

Sober Living Home

If a person has completed residential treatment and does not feel confident enough to return home or live “in the real world,” a sober living residence is an excellent way to transition. Residents in sober living homes are responsible for maintenance, chores, and paying rent. Some homes require residents to be employed and attend meetings.

Breaking Out of Addiction

Is addiction genetic or environmental? In either case, you can break free from your addiction and find a real quality of life you may have given up on. At North Jersey Recovery Center, we are experienced addiction specialists. Our goals are your goals and we dedicate ourselves to helping you achieve your purpose in life. From detox to sober living, we will be with you every step of the way. If you’re worried about a loved one with a substance use disorder, we have interventionists and can help you organize an intervention if it becomes necessary. Nobody needs to go through this alone. Contact us today.