If you have been touched by addiction, you may wonder why it happened to you and not someone else. Drug addiction is a complex condition that may be caused, at least in part, by a person’s genetic makeup. While no one has yet found an “addiction gene,” studies have determined that genetics play as much as 50 percent of the role in the development of drug addiction.

Drug Addiction and Genetics

Genes are composed of varying DNA sequences that are packaged together in your chromosomes, serving as a guidebook for your particular traits. Each person has thousands of genes that might influence his or her physical and behavioral characteristics as well as a predisposition to a condition such as a substance use disorder.

People with a genetic predisposition to addiction might become addicted to drugs more quickly. One study found that the children of an addict were eight times more likely to develop a drug addiction than those who did not have an addicted parent.

That is not to say, however, that people who are lacking these genes cannot drink or drug themselves right into a full-blown addiction. Many factors can contribute to drug addiction. For instance, the type of drug you abuse could also play a role in the likelihood of an addiction developing.

Heritability and Drug Addiction

A person’s predisposition to developing a substance use disorder could vary depending on the drug. Some research suggests that certain drugs have different heritability rates. For example, hallucinogens have the lowest heritability rate at 39 percent, and cocaine has the highest heritability rate at 72 percent. Other drugs with high heritability rates are opiates, alcohol, nicotine, and sedatives.

Causes of Addiction Beyond Genetics

Genetics are not the only factor that contributes to drug addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, epigenetics also come into play. This refers to the role that environment plays in shaping a person’s thoughts and behaviors, regardless of genetic makeup. For example, identical twins are born with the same genetic footprint. Yet, if those twins are raised in different environments, their DNA can alter to the point that one may be more susceptible to addiction than another.

Other causes and risk factors for addiction beyond genetics include:

  • Poor coping skills
  • Childhood abuse
  • Lack of a support system
  • Poverty
  • Mental health problems

Preventing Drug Addiction

Just because you have a family history of drug addiction, that does not mean that you are destined to become a drug addict, although the chances are greater of this occurring. You and your family can help prevent addiction from developing by:

  • Understanding your family history
  • Gaining an education on the signs and symptoms of addiction
  • Abstaining from drug and alcohol use
  • Developing strong coping skills
  • Creating a strong support network
  • Seeking drug addiction treatment early if necessary

Unfortunately, genetics play a strong role in the development of drug addiction. If you or a loved one are using drugs and are unable to stop, there is a way out. Contact The Recovery Village to learn more about our drug addiction treatment program or to discuss admissions options.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.