Many conditions and diseases have a genetic component and tend to run in families, and addiction is a good example. Some families are ravaged by the disease, and multiple generations may struggle with substance abuse.
If there’s a history of substance abuse in your family, or if you struggle with substance abuse yourself, there is a higher risk of your children developing a similar problem with drugs or alcohol. The hereditary aspect of addiction increases the risk of children of addicted parents developing the disease themselves, and growing up in an environment where substance abuse is present can also make offspring more susceptible to developing an addiction at some point in their lives.
However, having a parent who battled addiction doesn’t mean a child is doomed to repeat history. In this article, we’ll explore the role of genetics in addiction and discuss how to break the vicious cycle.
A Disease That Spans Generations
It’s not uncommon for families to suffer from what’s known as generational addiction. One study found that over 80 million adults in the United States were either married to someone with alcoholism, had a family member with alcoholism or grew up in a home with alcoholic parents.1 Other research suggests that children who have a parent with a substance abuse problem have a fourfold greater risk of developing a substance use disorder themselves.
Why does this cycle of addiction continue within families when treatment is available that works? Children who come from a home affected by addiction may feel embarrassed or even ashamed of their situation, and they may hesitate to seek help. Without the necessary professional help, it’s easy for addiction to end up impacting multiple generations of a family.
The Genetic Factor
Genetics play a significant role in the development of addiction, with some research showing that up to 60 percent of an individual’s risk for addiction can be traced to genetics.2 While certain genetic factors can undoubtedly increase the risk of addiction, the environment a person grows up in also plays a part. Living in a household where substance abuse was present can impact a child’s attitude toward drinking and drug use, and growing up in an unstable environment can also leave a child more susceptible to addiction.
Breaking the Cycle
Despite the genetic link, addiction doesn’t have to be a child’s destiny, even if their parent struggled with substance abuse. The most effective way to break the cycle of substance abuse within a family is to abstain from drinking and drug use. If you believe your family has a risk of addiction that is higher than average, then complete abstinence is the safest choice.
If you’re experiencing active addiction, a high-quality treatment center can help you begin to heal and make a fresh start for you and your family. During treatment, you’ll learn more about how addiction works, and you’ll begin to understand the impact that your genetic makeup and family environment had on your own addiction.
Your children’s risk of addiction might be higher if either of their parents or another immediate family member struggles with substance abuse. However, it’s possible for them to avoid developing an addiction themselves. With the knowledge that their risk of addiction may be higher, they can take steps to avoid developing a substance use disorder or seek treatment.