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Is Addiction Hereditary?

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If one of your parents has had an addiction, does that mean you are more susceptible to having one?

The “nature vs. nurture” debate as it refers to drug or alcohol addiction is one that scientists continue to study over the past few years.

  • According to a 2008 article published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Some diseases, like sickle cell anemia or cystic fibrosis, are caused by an error in a single gene. … However, most diseases, including addiction, are more complicated: variations in many different genes contribute to an individual’s overall level of risk or resistance.”
  • NIDA for Teens approached the question in 2011 and concluded that “the short answer is yes, because the risk of developing drug and alcohol problems is higher in children whose parents abuse alcohol or drugs—but it is NOT a guarantee.”  The organization pointed out that the behaviors of addicted parents, including bringing drugs and alcohol into the home, could trigger similar behaviors in their children. As well, there could be a hereditary predisposition to an “addictive personality.”

By 2012, a University of Cambridge study suggested the human brain may be “wired” for addictive behavior. “Scientists have found specific abnormalities in the brains of regular cocaine users which are likely to have been present in early childhood rather than coming about as a result of the drug misuse,” notes an article in the UK Independent.

“Our findings suggest that drug addiction is not a failure of character or a life-style choice,” Dr. Karen Ersche told the publication. “It’s a problem with the brain. If your brain is wired for addiction it’s easier for the drugs to take over, but the good thing is that this is not inevitable.”

Help for single or dual diagnoses
If you or a family member is battling addiction – or dealing with the dual diagnoses of addiction and mental-health illness – you can find expert care and support for the entire family at Transitions Recovery, a national leader in addiction treatment since 1985.