People of any age, gender or economic status may develop a drug or alcohol addiction. While no single factor can determine whether or not someone will become addicted to a chemical substance, research shows that genetic and environmental factors may play an important role.
In this article, we’ll give you an easy-to-understand overview of how your unique genetic makeup and the characteristics of your external environment could possibly increase your risk of addiction. Then, we’ll offer our suggestions for determining if addiction runs in your family and how to correct or avoid known environmental triggers.
In simple terms, experts believe that many mental illnesses – including addiction – may be linked to abnormalities in your genes. So, if you’ve inherited the genetic susceptibility, exposing these genes to chemical substances, could inadvertently trigger an addiction.
In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says that up to 50% of your risk of drug or alcohol dependency is based on your unique genetic makeup.
Because of the strong negative stigma of addiction, families sometimes hide addictions or brush them off. While it may be difficult for your family members to discuss this sensitive topic with you, don’t give up. Understanding your family’s history with drug or alcohol dependency can offer valuable new insight into your personal struggle with substance abuse.
You can start by thinking about your immediate family members. Have any of them sought treatment for drug or alcohol addiction in the past? While this alone does not necessarily mean your family is genetically more or less susceptible to addiction, it could be an important clue. And remember, you may not be aware of your family’s history with addiction. The only way to know for sure is to have an honest conversation with your loved ones.
Genetics and family history are just one factor that may increase your risk of addiction. But, even if you have a genetic predisposition to substance abuse, you can still fight back by adopting healthy coping skills and surrounding yourself with positive influences. This is why understanding your family history as it pertains to substance abuse is so important.
In addition to genetics, your current and past environment may also put you at an increased risk for developing an addiction to alcohol or drugs. Next we’ll explore three common environmental factors that could contribute to your risk of addiction and how to begin the healing process.
1. Negligent or Indifferent Parenting: We all have an image in our minds of what the parent-child relationship is supposed to look like. The problem is that this ideal may not be based on what is actually attainable. The good news is that there are other ways to contextualize your relationship. In doing so, you can begin to understand and accept your relationship with your parents for what it is – and what it can be. To get started, consider seeking help from a professional therapist.
2. Peer Influence & Pressure: We all desire to connect with other people and to feel like we belong. For some, this creates a dangerous environment where you might feel obligated to experiment with drugs or alcohol, which in turn may set the stage for addiction. This is easier said than done, but you need to define the relationships in your life that cause harm or disappointment and replace them with reciprocal, healthy, genuine relationships.
3. Previous Substance Abuse: We know that early drug use can impact brain development, possibly leading to mental health disorders in the future. Lacking the appropriate skills or support systems to cope with these disorders, many people self-medicate using alcohol or other drugs, which often results in addiction. The Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that 37% of alcoholics have a co-occurring mental illness. For drug addicts, the dual diagnosis rate is 53%. If you’ve never been professionally evaluated for psychological disorders, a pre-existing or co-occurring mental illness could be contributing to your struggle with addiction.
People of all backgrounds can be at risk for drug addiction. While it can be hard to understand why some are more prone than others, understanding your own risk factors can provide the insight you need to find a path to recovery. At The Raleigh House, we offer comprehensive addiction rehabilitation that accounts for the genetic and environmental factors often associated with addiction. We invite you to learn more about our program or contact us today. Get help now.