From our friends at ChoosingTherapy.com:
Genetics can certainly influence addiction, but it’s too simplistic and even dangerous to assume that addiction is hereditary and that some genes alone can cause addiction. That said, there are clear relationships between addictive behavior in families and how these tendencies can pass down intergenerationally.
Research shows that approximately 1 in 8 American children have a parent with a substance use disorder.
Studies show that children of parents with alcoholism have higher rates of drinking, and they tend to begin drinking at a younger age with higher levels of consumption. Another study found that children growing up in homes where a caregiver has a drug or alcohol addiction are eight times more likely to develop an addiction themselves.
While there is less research on the genetic components of behavioral addictions, one study found that compulsive shopping tends to run in families. Similarly, genetics may account for up to 40-60% of eating disorders, which are complex mental health conditions often conceptualized within an addiction framework.6
Although some people talk about addictive personalities, most experts debunk this simplistic claim. This is because there isn’t a single cause of addiction, and although specific personality traits play a role, it’s impossible to distinguish correlation from causation.
Is Addiction Hereditary or Genetic?
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, it’s important to understand the key differences. Genetics refers to the study of heredity, including variability among inherited traits. Heredity refers to the specific passing down of traits across generations.
The differences between genetics and heredity include:
•Genetics: The study of genes focuses on genetic variability among people. It’s estimated that we share 99% of all genes, so genetics focuses on those slight but essential differences.
•Heredity: Heredity is the literal process of passing down features from one generation to the next via reproduction. These DNA sequences are stored as genes.
Other Causes of Addiction
Addiction is multifaceted, and a genetic predisposition to addiction doesn’t inherently mean someone will develop a problem. Nature and nurture both play a role in developing addictive tendencies.
Other factors that can influence the development of addiction include:
•Prevalence of other mental health disorders: There is a comorbidity between addiction and mental health disorders, including bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia.
•Prevalence of personality disorders: There is also comorbidity between addiction and personality disorders, including borderline personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder.
•Childhood trauma: Childhood trauma, which can include childhood emotional neglect, growing up with an abusive parent, or identifying as an adult child of an alcoholic, is a significant risk factor for addiction.
•Addiction within the culture you grew up in. Social influence and peer pressure can increase one’s likelihood of using drugs or alcohol, which may normalize addictive behavior.
•Minority stress: Minority stress often coincides with chronic stress. Some people may use drugs or alcohol to cope with this impact.
•Physical health conditions: Certain health conditions, especially those associated with chronic pain, correlate with people using drugs or alcohol. These substances can provide temporary relief, and building a tolerance may happen quickly.
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