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Addiction and Genetics: Why Does My Loved One Abuse Alcohol or Drugs?

A man talking to his significant other about his addiction and why he abuses drugs.
There are genetic markers that indicate if someone is more likely to suffer from addiction.

It’s difficult watching your loved one spiral out of control from addiction. You just can’t understand why they would trade loving relationships and a promising career for a toxic lifestyle and possible legal troubles. Unfortunately, your spouse, sibling, child or parent may not understand it, either.

This is because addiction is oftentimes intertwined with genetics and epigenetic changes – two things you can’t tangibly point to as causes for addiction like you can with environmental factors. The good news is we can help you better understand the role genetics plays in your loved one’s substance abuse.

How Genetics Impacts the Likelihood of Addiction

Genetics, or the study of genes, has come a long way in understanding how our very own DNA can make us more prone to complex diseases like cancer, diabetes and even addiction. In fact, familial studies using siblings (identical, fraternal and adopted) have found that at least half of an individual’s genetic makeup affects the likelihood of them struggling with addiction at some point in their life.

Now, we aren’t at the point where we can identify every single gene responsible for substance abuse. After all, there are a staggering three million pairs of DNA sequence in the 0.1 percent of the human genome that could be related to addiction! However, DNA analysis and genome study techniques have helped us begin to put some of the pieces of the puzzle together.

For example, we now know that low levels of the gene CHRNA2 in the cerebellum are tied to cannabis use disorder. We also know that certain gene clusters are at least partially responsible for alcohol addiction, and that the genetic locations, CUL3, PDE4B, and PTGER3, all play a role.

Other studies have found genetic markers in rats that impact their the risk of addiction and may ultimately play a role in substance use disorders of human beings. A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that addiction-prone rats had lower levels of the pleasure receptor known as D2 and also carried an epigenetic tag labeled H3K9me3 compared to the less addiction-prone rats.

These types of insights and research findings get us closer to understanding why some people struggle with addiction while others do not, and further supports that what your loved one is struggling with is a disease.

Epigenetic Changes that Can Lead to Addiction

Of course, addiction isn’t just a matter of nature over nurture. Environmental factors still play a significant role in your loved one’s substance abuse, leading to epigenetic changes.

Epigenetic changes are DNA modifications that don’t actually change the DNA sequence of the human genome but can affect gene activity. In other words, environmental exposures can remodel DNA structure and affect the expression of genes, putting someone at higher risk of addictive tendencies.

For example, significant stress caused by trauma or a loss of a loved one triggers the release of steroid hormones throughout the body and the brain’s reward circuitry. This stress reaction leads to epigenetic changes that can affect the reward areas of the brain and can trigger addiction. Substance abuse, itself, can also lead to epigenetic changes where proteins involved in addiction are produced more often and trigger additional drug-seeking behaviors.

What Genetics Means for Your Loved One’s Recovery

All of this science means that your loved one’s addiction is likely caused, in part, by their genetic make-up. It’s also necessary for you to consider recent events that your loved one has experienced. Has someone close to them recently passed away? Did they lose their job or are they under incredible stress at work? These environmental factors may have led to epigenetic changes that may have led your loved one to drink or abuse drugs.

While science can’t change your loved one’s DNA responsible for addiction, there’s still opportunity for treatment and recovery. The Raleigh House offers addiction treatment founded on science and evidence-based therapies that can help your loved one manage addiction cravings and develop healthy ways to cope with stress that don’t lead to addiction-prone epigenetic changes.

Get Your Loved One Addiction Treatment at The Raleigh House

The Raleigh House has over 10 years of experience helping people just like your loved one overcome addiction and behavioral health disorders. We take an “east to west” approach, combining evidence-based treatments with experiential activities to help your loved one get the alcohol or drugs out of their system, learn their triggers and develop a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle that allows them to better manage the stressors and anxieties of life.

Contact our admissions team today to learn more about our treatment approach and to find out how to get your loved one started.

Call Now: 720-891-4657

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