One of the age-old debates in various branches of science is nature versus nurture. This debate is no different in the world of addiction science and treatment. And it pertains to the question “Is addiction hereditary?” in a big way.
In 2016 the federal government released a report called “Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health.” The study – which was the first of its kind to be released by a Surgeon General – clearly outlined the challenges that addiction poses for Americans and society at large. According to its findings, one out of seven people in the United States will deal with an addiction in their lifetime. Additionally, only ten percent of those affected by addiction will get the necessary services and interventions.
In the midst of this addiction epidemic, it’s only natural to wonder how it personally manifested for a particular addict. Were they born with a genetic predisposition for addiction? Or is addiction a product of our environment? It is a chicken-and-egg debate of sorts for sure.
The Origins of Addiction Are An Ongoing Debate
According to an article in USA Today, people who are struggling with dependence on an opioid overdose nearly every 20 minutes each day in the United States. Addiction is a pressing social problem. It requires the attention of experts, advocates and entities across the private and public sectors. It is also a problem that raises valid questions about its origin. Is addiction and substance abuse an issue that is hereditary is it an issue that arises mostly out of environmental factors? Not surprisingly, not everyone who works with addicts or who studies addiction agrees on the notion that addiction can be inherited.
The Case For Addiction Resulting From Environmental Factors
There was a time when many drug prevention awareness campaigns focused largely on children in school. The reason for this was likely because peer pressure has been cited as a factor that could influence whether or not a young person was more likely to start using a dangerous substance. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) identifies “peer and school” and “home and family” as being among the risk factors that can lead to drug abuse. According to the NIDA, when children live in households where drug or alcohol abuse occurs, they are more likely to abuse drugs themselves. Also, children and young people who are left to their own devices and are not being monitored by a guardian or parent have more opportunities for them to experiment with drugs. It also creates the possibility for them to become addicted to dangerous substances.
Other risk factors related to the environment and drug use include having underdeveloped social skills and living in a low income community. Exhibiting aggression as a child is another possible sign. NIDA also notes the importance of peer pressure. Children who come from homes where drug abuse does not occur are just as susceptible. And children who live in well-resourced communities can possibly develop an addiction if their peers introduce them to drugs.
An addict’s environment can make it difficult for them to overcome addiction. The health publication notes that recovering addicts will often need to avoid the people and places associated with their addictions. This is because these environments and individuals can often “trigger” their desire to use again. This illustrates the significance of environmental factors as they relate to addiction. Also, the younger that someone is when they begin using drugs, the higher the possibility that they will become addicted to them.
The Argument for Addiction Being Hereditary
NIDA also notes that biology drives addiction to a certain extent. The public agency notes that experts attribute, at a minimum, at least forty percent of the causes of addiction to “genetic factors.” The American Psychological Association (APA) has released past research that asserts that fifty percent of drug addiction is connected to genetics. According to the University of Utah, there is not necessarily a single gene that once identified by a researcher is a red flag that indicates future ad diction.
It is true that one’s genetics are not necessarily indicative of one’s medical destiny. But, there is a strong scientific consensus that addiction is a disease that can be passed along from parent to child. They pass on the risk for addiction in the same the way that risks like heart disease or high blood pressure can be passed on. In other words, addiction can be hereditary.
One of the benefits of viewing addiction as hereditary is that it shifts the way that addiction is treated. This view can also help prevent addiction in the first place. The notion of addiction as not a personal shortcoming or character flaw is becoming much more widely accepted. And so is the idea that treatment for addiction must be developed in a holistic fashion. This means that treatment approaches should consider factors like a patient’s family history of addiction.
Opportunity for Change and Treatment
The revelation of a possible family history of dependence on certain substances is not cause for shame. Instead, this information that can equip them to develop mechanisms and lifestyle changes. They can help them avoid addiction or empower their care providers to help them better overcome a current addiction.
The connections between addiction and genetics do create an opportunity. They make it possible for medical professionals to design better treatment options to people who are struggling with addiction. Members of the medical community and the addiction science community can come together. Additionally, genetic testing as part of the treatment or prevention process should be considered. Doctors can use techniques that involve scanning the brain to examine factors. For example, they can determine the number of dopamine receptors a person has.
We Are Here For You
Regardless of whether or not addiction is hereditary or not, you don’t have to suffer from this disease alone. We know what you are going through, and we know it isn’t easy. We will walk with you on your journey to recovery and be there to guide and advise you every step of the way.