The road to recovery from addiction can be a long one with obstacles and setbacks along the way. For families of addicted persons, there are also frustrations as efforts to help the individual often seem futile. It is important for families to understand some of the factors that contribute to drug addiction, especially the role of genetics in addiction. An awareness of this area may help individuals who may be susceptible to drug addiction avoid becoming hooked on harmful substances.
What is meant by heredity or genetics?
Heredity is a word that describes attributes or traits that are passed from parents to children. Some of these traits include hair color, height, weight, and even the way an individual handles stress. Genetics is a term used to describe the role genes play in making people who they are. Each parent passes a set of chromosomes to a child. Chromosomes are made up of DNA, the genetic material or genes that are responsible for the characteristics or traits described earlier (hair color, height, etc.)..
What other attributes are passed from parents to children?
Just as visible features are passed on to children by their parents, children can inherit other attributes. Certain conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer affect individuals because their parents or someone in their ancestral line had those conditions. This is why there is such a push toward preventing these diseases. Eating healthy foods and getting regular physical activity are two ways people try to avoid these inherited conditions. Likewise, there is research that shows that the tendency to become addicted to drugs or alcohol can also be inherited. This is important research because in times past the thinking toward addicted persons focused more on environment and personal choices.
How much does heredity determine addiction?
While the research shows that heredity can play a role in the risk for addiction, heredity is not the only issue involved. About half of the risk for alcohol addiction comes from heredity. It is important to note also that when a person inherits a tendency toward addiction, it does not mean that addiction is inevitable. Other factors that can contribute to addiction include environment and the age a person starts to use harmful substances. Cultural beliefs about drinking and drug use and environmental influences can also be a part of the mix.
Why is it important to know about heredity and drug addiction?
The research on heredity and drug addiction should not become a crutch of learned helplessness where people feel powerless to avoid addiction. However, awareness that drug or alcohol addiction has existed in a family may help individuals avoid becoming addicted. First, deciding to use drugs or alcohol is a choice and knowing that one is at high risk may be a deterrent to experimenting with these substances.
Second, the earlier people begin to use alcohol or drugs the more likely it is that they will become addicted. When drug use begins in adolescence, it interferes with brain development. The areas in the brain responsible for decision-making and good judgment are impacted, which can mean that the substance abuse leads to poor decisions, including the decision to keep using. When parents recognize that their children might be more susceptible to substance abuse at an early age, there are some steps they can take such as keeping alcohol out of the hands of adolescents by creating an alcohol-free environment in the home. A parent who suspects that a child may be dabbling in recreational drug use can intervene by getting professional help for the child sooner than later.
Finally, the research on heredity and drug addiction is promising because it clearly points to the fact that no two people are the same. Some are able to stop using immediately, while there are those who with the support of peers can stay clean for extended periods. However, there are others that cycle in and out of rehab for the rest of their lives. Hopefully, the research will lend new insights into individualized treatment for all types of substance abuse.