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Genetics and Addiction

Authored by Granite Recovery Centers    Reviewed by James Gamache    Last Updated: August 27th, 2021

James Gamache Medical Reviewer
Jim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) and Licensed Masters Level Addictions Counselor (MLADC). He has been working in the field of mental health/addiction treatment since 1995. Jim earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services from Springfield College in 2000, and a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University in 2002. In 2002 Jim was hired by the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester holding the position of Clinical Case Manager. From 2004-2019, Jim was employed at WestBridge Inc. During his time at WestBridge, Jim held the following positions; Clinician, Team Leader, Director, & Chief Operations Officer. In 2019 Jim transitioned employment to GateHouse Treatment Center as the Clinical Director for 10 months. In October of 2020 Jim transitioned to Granite Recovery Centers and is currently serving as the Senior VP of Clinical Services and Quality Assurance.

Are You More Likely to Become Addicted?

People are often curious as to the relationship between genetics and addiction. Are some people more likely to suffer from addiction – and if so, are some more likely to encounter difficulty in recovery? Are people with a family history of addiction more likely to become addicted themselves? The prevailing consensus so far is that genes play an important role, but not the only one, in addiction. In the words of the University of Utah’s Genetic Science Learning Center, “someone’s genetic makeup will never doom them to inevitably become an addict”. Addiction is a complex disease that is yet to be fully understood by researchers. Many debates surround the causes of addiction, whether environmental, social, genetic, or otherwise. Most researchers agree that addiction results from a variety of such factors, rather than being determined by any single one.

Genes, the Environment, and Addiction notes that while 99.9% of DNA sequences are identical among all people, the .1% difference accounts for a great number of differences. There is no single gene that determines a person’s likelihood for addiction. Instead, many variations across multiple genes can influence various factors related to addiction. Furthermore, the writers note, these genes interact with a person’s environment to increase or decrease risks of addiction. Lifestyle choices, such as diet and exercise, may offset a genetic predisposition towards addiction. Likewise, “genes can play a part in how a person responds to his or her environment, placing some people at higher risk for disease than others”. The Genetic Science Learning Center offers a few relevant examples of genes tying to addiction in humans:

  • The A1 allele of the dopamine receptor gene DRD2 is more common in people addicted to alcohol or cocaine.
  • Non-smokers are more likely than smokers to carry a protective allele of the CYP2A6 gene, which causes them to feel nausea and dizziness from smoking.
  • Alcoholism is rare in people with two copies of the ALDH*2 gene variation.

Is Addiction Hereditary?

Studies have shown that “addictions are moderately to highly heritable,” with “an individual’s risk [tending] to be proportional to the degree of genetic relationship to an addicted relative”. Researchers are quick to point out, however, that despite increased susceptibility, individual risk for addiction is still “profoundly influenced by lifestyle and individual choices”. Dr. Glen Hanson summarizes: “Just because you are prone to addiction doesn’t mean you’re going to become addicted. It just means you’ve got to be careful”.

Offsetting a Genetic Predisposition to Addiction

The American Psychological Association notes that half of a person’s susceptibility to addiction can be explained by genetics. The other half, then, is within an individual’s control. Finding the right environment, supportive people, the proper mindset, and making healthy lifestyle choices can all help offset any genetic predisposition towards addiction. Learning to accept one’s susceptibility to addiction, recognizing personal pitfalls and unhealthy habits, and dedicating one’s self to change are important milestones when choosing to fight a dependence or addiction to a given substance. Finding a dedicated substance abuse recovery program is one way to ensure these skills and strategies are developed.

Help for Your Drug or Alcohol Addiction

Granite Recovery Centers in New Hampshire operates under the idea that none of us are doomed to a life of addiction. With numerous drug rehab facilities offering a wide spectrum of addiction care, our approach uses a combination of 12-step work and clinical care that gives individuals the education, support, and care they need to beat addiction. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, please call our admissions specialists at 855.712.7784 . We can help.

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At Granite Recovery Centers, we want to provide accurate information about health and addiction so that our readers can make informed decisions.

We have credentialed medical doctors & clinicians who specialize in addiction treatment review the information on our website before it is published. We use credible sources such as government websites and journal articles when citing statistics or other medically related topics.