Addiction On The Family Tree: Genetic Influence


We are all born into a family with an established history. Some of the history may be a source of pride and is openly shared. Other people or events, such as those involving addictions, may rarely be discussed.

Whether it is a source of pride, shame, or both, our family history influences us and future generations.

The important thing to remember is that our genetic history is an influence. We need to be aware of the specific influences hanging on our family tree, but know that nothing is set in stone.

The Influence of Family Genes

There is a slew of research on the role of family history related to addictions. It was discovered that genetic predisposition is half responsible for the forming of an addiction. The other half is owed to poor coping skills, or not having effective ways of managing stress, problems, and emotional or mental pain.

When someone in our immediate family has an addiction, the influence is even stronger. One study found that when a parent has an alcohol or drug addiction, his or her children are at eight times greater risk for developing the same. However, it is not just immediate family habits and genes that pass on predisposition.

The Influence of Brain Wiring

The entire family of man is neurologically predisposed to addiction for survival reasons.

If any animal, including man, eats something that is pleasurable to the palate, they will seek out that food to eat again. In this way our brains are hardwired to survive. Unfortunately, it also means that a number of us eat too many pleasurable pieces of pizza at one sitting, and that some people will consume substances that are pleasant but harmful.

Brain wiring is partly why people with a very low predisposition for addiction are fortunate but not entirely safe. They can end up acquiring an addiction as well. The reason is that repetitive behaviors alter or rewire the brain. The continuous use of ineffective coping skills or the frequent abuse of drugs or alcohol have a creative ill-effect on our neurological pathways, sometimes resulting in addiction.

What We Can Do To Offset Predisposition

  1. We can talk to our family members, especially our children, about the pros and cons of our family’s history. The knowledge of a genetic predisposition for addiction may help some members make wiser choices about what substances they consume, or how much.
  2. We can learn and model effective coping skills. This includes skills for expressing thoughts and feelings, and ways of reducing stress and relaxing the body. It also means eating a nutritious diet and getting enough sleep and exercise. There is no shame in learning new skills. All of us reach adulthood with some poor ones.
  3. If we are worried about the influence of our family history and our attraction to addictive substances, we can admit this and seek help. Family and friends will likely see and admire the courage involved. This may help them be honest about their own weaknesses, whatever they might be.

source: The Genetics of Addiction


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