The Link Between Genetics and Addiction

You have probably heard many people say, “Oh it runs in my family.” They could be referring to red hair, an aptitude for math, flat feet, or really any trait at all.

Sometimes, addiction can run in the family.

The old argument about ‘nature or nurture’ should be rephrased when talking about addiction to ‘nature and nurture’. Recent research shows that an individual’s propensity for addiction is approximately 50-60 percent due to genetic makeup.

How Addiction Affects the Brain

The state of addiction is now understood to be a chronic brain disorder in which the function and structure of one’s brain is altered significantly. The brain has a specific area set aside for dealing with pleasurable experiences, such as sex, shopping, and food.

When the pleasure center is activated, the brain is rewarded with a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which floods the brain and produces a feeling of euphoria and well-being.

When taking drugs such as heroin or cocaine, or indulging in excessive alcohol, the dopamine release is rapid and intense. Addiction is when a person’s brain develops a tolerance to that dopamine release, and requires more of the substance in order to achieve the same sense of well-being. When the use of the drug becomes compulsive, chasing after that initial ‘high’, then it has become an addiction.

Addiction and Genetics

How much of a role do genetics play in the process of addiction?

According to recent studies conducted in both the United States and Europe, genetic predisposition can account for up to 60 percent of a person’s vulnerability to substance abuse. One Finnish study followed sets of twins from age 10 until they were 17.5, and concluded that hereditary genes contributed to their initiation to tobacco by 58 percent. The study went on to show a link between addiction to smoking and illicit drug use.

Genes are the functional components of DNA that string together to form your genome. Recent advances in science have allowed scientists to begin looking at a persons’ entire genome at once, which is incredibly helpful in trying to untangle the complexities of DNA.

Genes determine how the body reacts to certain substances; how the brain handles the intense dopamine rush; how enzymes break down the physical components; and how the substance is absorbed into the body. For instance, one study shows that some people are more resistant genetically to nicotine addiction than others.

These breakthroughs in genetic testing are important for developing individualized treatment plans, as well as helping addicts understand their condition in a more complete way. It is hoped that further research will result in not only better treatment, but better preventative measures in society as well.

Don’t Let Your Genes Determine Your Life

Substance abuse treatment

Just because you have a genetic predisposition does not mean you are unable to beat your addiction. A good treatment plan will teach you helpful coping mechanisms to overcome your disorder, proving that nurture can be stronger than nature.

At the Recovery Village of Ridgefield, we use a holistic healing approach to help you overcome your addiction. Settle into our peaceful, mountain retreat and begin your journey today. Click here to learn more about admissions or contact us right now to get started.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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