There are numerous risk factors for addiction, and no single cause can describe why someone becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol. That being said, one risk factor that can contribute to an addiction or substance use disorder is a genetic predisposition.
This doesn’t mean that if someone has a genetic risk for addiction they are guaranteed to fall victim to an addiction; it simply means that genes can increase the risk. Here, learn about genetic predispositions for addiction, as well as what you can do to reduce your risks.
How much do genes contribute to addiction?
Scientists have extensively studied the role of genes in the development of addictions, and while there is some disagreement on just how much genes contribute to the risk of addiction, there is relatively strong agreement that genes play a role.
Leading research suggests strong genetic connection
Research suggests that 40 to 60% of the risk for an addiction can be attributed to a person’s genetics. What this means is that about half of the risk is a result of genetics, whereas the other half comes from environmental factors.
The 40 to 60% figure noted above captures what researchers have found about the overall genetic contribution of addiction to drugs, alcohol, and nicotine. Additional research has focused specifically on the relationship between genes and alcohol use disorder, which is the clinical term for an alcohol addiction. Consistent with other research, studies on alcohol use disorder show that this condition is about 50% attributable to genetic factors. Furthermore, research has shown that genes related to the way that alcohol is metabolized are associated with the risk of alcohol addiction.
Research on genetic predispositions to addiction is complex, because no single gene can predict whether or not someone will develop an addiction. Scientists have identified several genes that potentially contribute to addiction, and future research will expand upon what we already know about genes and addiction.
Other Risk Factors for Addiction
As genetic studies have shown, genes cannot explain, on their own, whether someone will develop an addiction, as genetic predisposition accounts for about half of a person’s risk of a substance use disorder.
Risk factors for developing an addiction
Additional risk factors for developing an addiction are as follows:
- Growing up in a chaotic home environment
- Having a parent with a mental illness or addiction
- Poor parenting
- Lack of bonding with parents as a child
- Poor academic performance
- Friendships with peers who use drugs
- Poor coping skills
- Being involved in a community, family, or work environment that condones drug use
As noted above, there are a variety of factors that increase a person’s risk of addiction. Someone who has a genetic risk factor, combined with exposure to one or more of the risk factors noted above, is at significantly higher risk of developing an addiction.
Protective Factors Against Addiction
While risk factors elevate a person’s likelihood of becoming addicted, there are protective factors that can reduce the risk. Consider the factors below:
- Strong family relationships
- Having parents who monitor their children’s activities
- Success in school
- Strong connection to institutions like school and religious organizations
- Clear rules against drug use
- Acceptance of the viewpoint that drug use is a deviant behavior
Even if a person has genetic risk factors for addiction, growing up in a home where parents are present and enforce rules against drug use can reduce the risk of an addiction.
The Bottom Line
A genetic predisposition can increase the likelihood that someone will become addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, but having a history of addiction in the family does not mean a life sentence.
You may have genetic risk factors for addiction, but if you surround yourself with positive peers and family members and stay engaged in work and school, you can avoid the consequences that come with drug and alcohol abuse. The bottom line is that you do not have control over your genetics, but if you have a family history of addiction, being aware of this fact can motivate you to reduce your other risk factors and create a healthy environment that reduces your vulnerability to addiction.