Published On: February 22, 2024Categories: EducationalComments Off on Is Addiction Hereditary or Learned Behavior?

Most of us are aware of the damage drug addiction can do to individuals and families. Many have experienced the terror addiction themselves or watched helplessly as a loved one endured it. If you’ve had family members with a substance use disorder, you may have wondered: Is addiction hereditary, or it is entirely learned behavior?

This North Jersey Recovery Center article explores the relationship between addiction and genetics. We’ll explore the possibility of a genetic predisposition to addiction compared with environmental factors and answer lots of questions along the way. 

The Complex Puzzle of Substance Abuse

Addiction is one of the more perplexing phenomena in the human condition. This illness of the mind somehow reorders the sufferer’s priorities until drugs and alcohol come before almost anything else. Science is making advances in our understanding of how the brain works and that research may hold the keys to solving the addiction problem. 

In the meantime, we are left working to develop increasingly effective methods of addiction treatment and doing whatever we can to help people with substance use disorders. Part of developing a more effective treatment for addiction involves understanding where addiction comes from. This part of the equation not only involves 

What We Know About Addiction and Genetics

The limited amount of research that’s been done into addiction and genetics so far suggests that roughly half of a person’s risk of developing addiction can be attributed to genetics. Certain genes make people more prone to using alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

We also know that the neurotransmitter dopamine plays a major role in the mechanism of addiction, as it is the primary neurotransmitter in the brain’s reward center. A simple definition of addiction is that it is a sort of “chemical hacking” of that reward center. 

This part of the brain is intended to reinforce behaviors necessary for our survival (hunger, comfort, sexual desire). When addiction takes root, a drug or drink becomes the primary source of reward. 

The Latest Research Findings on Genetic Predisposition to Addiction

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) are using genetic data to develop a definitive answer to the question: is addiction hereditary?

A recent NIH study helped advance our understanding of the role genetics may play in addiction by revealing some new genes linked to addiction. The study processes the genomes of over 1 million participants, which makes it one of the largest efforts of its type. What makes this study uniquely relevant is that it focused on addiction as a whole, rather than individual substances the way previous research has. 

What they learned, among other things, is that a certain combination of genes involved in regulating dopamine signaling a

Environmental Factors, Trauma, and Addiction

The exact role that our genes play in addiction is still a bit of a mystery. We know a great deal more about the experiential factors that can contribute to addiction though. One of the major ones we focus on in drug and alcohol treatment today is trauma. There’s a definite connection between trauma, especially early in life, such as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and addiction. 

Trauma is complex and people who’ve experienced significant trauma often underestimate just how pervasive its effects are. The effects of trauma are not just far-reaching, they are also long-lasting. The only way we know of to lessen the effects of trauma, such as triggering or fueling addiction, is to treat the trauma directly. Confront the problem and process the trauma. 

Regardless of our genetics, at least half of the risk of becoming addicted comes from our experience in childhood and our adult lives, our role models, the decisions we make, and who we choose to spend time with. The good news is we have a lot of control over some of those things, especially in adulthood.  

So… Is Addiction Inherited or Learned Behavior?

Addiction can be both a result of our genetics and the experiences we have and how we respond to them. This isn’t an either/or prospect. Both of these things are factors. 

It is important to state that when it comes to behavior, genetics are not destiny. No one is destined to develop addiction and no one is entirely immune to it either. So no one “inherits addiction”. But it is fair to say some people’s genetics give them a higher than average chance of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. 

Our current understanding is that genetics are responsible for roughly half of the risk of becoming addicted. The other half comes from our experiences and the choices we make. We cannot change our genetic makeup, nor can we change the past. But, if we are aware someone has a family history of addiction, we can take extra cautionary steps. 

If we’ve experienced significant trauma, we can seek out trauma treatment, such as EMDR and psychotherapy to process it and move through it. Finally, we can take responsibility for our behavior in the present. If addiction is a concern, we must use care when deciding who we spend time with, where we go, and what kinds of experiences we expose ourselves to.

Some Points To Remember About Addiction

  • Anyone who has a history of addiction in their family should use extra caution when it comes to drugs and alcohol. Complete abstinence is the safest route. 
  • Someone’s genetic makeup may make them more vulnerable to addiction, but we all still must take responsibility for our own behavior. 
  • No one can change their genes, but we can change our environment, the people we spend time with, and our actions. To avoid addiction — focus on what’s in your control. 

Help For People With Addiction

Helping people with addiction and/or co-occurring disorders like depression or anxiety is what we do best here at North Jersey Recovery Center. Most of our lives have been touched by addiction, either from personal experience or through our loved ones.

Whatever you have to share, we’re here to listen and to help. We also understand better than most because we’ve been there. Give us a call at (877) 790-5873

NJRC offers a full range of programs to fit busy lifestyles, with day and evening Intensive Outpatient Treatment available. All it takes is a phone call to begin moving in the right direction.