If you have a family history of alcoholism or drug abuse, you may have an increased risk of addiction. In fact, growing up with a parent who abused addictive substances can make you 8 times more likely to develop an addiction in your own life. That’s because addiction, like most conditions, can have a genetic component. After years of research, scientists have discovered that addiction typically occurs due to a combination of genetics and unhealthy coping skills. Overall, researchers estimate that addiction can be 40 to 60% genetic. Luckily, this means that you can avoid, fight, and overcome addiction even if your family has a history of substance abuse.
Genetics and Addiction
According to extensive research conducted by The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), certain gene variations can make you more vulnerable to drug and alcohol addiction. By studying the DNA of individuals grappling with substance abuse, scientists have been able to identify specific gene sequences that typically indicate an increased risk of addiction. These sequences help determine the production of specific proteins. The way these proteins function (or don’t function) can increase your vulnerability to drugs and alcohol.
In one landmark animal study conducted by researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Duke University Medical Center, scientists examined the protein PSD-95. Mice with lower levels of PSD-95 were more susceptible to cocaine and took a longer time to learn their way around a maze than mice with normal levels of PSD-95. “Drug abuse is a complex disorder and will therefore be influenced by multiple genes. PSD-95 represents one cog in the wheel,” researcher Dr. Marc Caron explained.
In another revealing study, scientists discovered that the protein DARPP-32 may also increase the likelihood of drug addiction. Dr. Paul Greengard, a neurobiologist and researcher at Rockefeller University, found that almost every addictive drug relies on DARPP-32. When the protein was removed from the brain, the mice didn’t respond to addictive drugs.
Even though genes can increase your risk of addiction, other factors, including lifestyle choices, environment, and stress, can also affect your likelihood of developing an addiction.
Epigenetics: The Interaction Between Genetics and Environment
Genetics is the study of genes and DNA. Epigenetics is the study of functional and inherited changes in the way genes are expressed. “Epi” means “above,” or “in addition to.” Epigenetic changes occur when your lifestyle choices and environmental factors begin to influence your genetic makeup.
Research shows that environmental factors can help improve or impair your genetic makeup. These factors can include your:
- Stress levels
- Physical activity
- Diet and nutrition
- Thoughts and thinking patterns
Your environment and lifestyle choices can change the way your genes are expressed. In a way, you can think of epigenetics as the study of how nurture interacts with nature. This means that regardless of your genetic makeup, your lifestyle choices and the way you care for yourself can, in fact, help you fight addiction.
Ways To Fight A Genetic Predisposition to Addiction
Even though studies show that there’s a link between genetics and addiction, research also shows that you can overcome this risk factor. Practicing healthy coping skills, reducing stress, maintaining a proper diet, developing effective communication skills, and being in the right environment can help you fight a genetic predisposition to addiction.
- Healthy coping skills. Everyone needs to know how to handle difficult situations in a healthy way, but this is especially true if you have a family history of addiction. Remember, addiction is 40 to 60% genetic, which means 50% of your risk comes from poor coping skills and stress management. Practicing healthy coping skills can help you adapt to sudden changes, overcome challenges, bounce back from adversity, lower stress, anxiety, and depression, and have a brighter outlook on life. The specific coping skills you develop are up to you, but having time to yourself, engaging in hobbies, deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness, and journaling are great options to try.
- Productive ways to reduce stress. Stress is one of the main triggers of substance abuse. Keeping your stress levels low can help you avoid using drugs and alcohol as a stress reliever. Common ways to reduce stress include laughing, exercising, writing, listening to music, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, walking, aromatherapy, and talking to supportive friends and family.
You can also reduce your risk of addiction by:
- Avoiding environments where drugs and alcohol are present
- Abstaining from drugs and alcohol as much as possible
- Talking to a therapist experienced in dependency and substance abuse issues
- Participating in support groups that can help you avoid or overcome addiction challenges
- Understanding how addiction began for your family members and consciously avoiding similar situations
Your Genes Are Not Your Destiny
A family history of heart disease, cancer, or diabetes doesn’t mean that you’ll develop the condition. The same is true of addiction. A genetic predisposition to substance abuse doesn’t mean that you can’t fight and overcome addiction. Your genes are not your destiny. Our comprehensive, flexible outpatient programs can help you fight addiction even if it runs in your family. Let us help empower you to take charge of your recovery, life, and future. Contact us today if you’re ready to look past your genetic sequence and change the trajectory of your life.