Why do some people become addicted to drugs and alcohol while others don’t? Is it all due to our environment, or do genetics play a role in addiction?

Whether a person decides to use alcohol or drugs for the first time is a personal choice, often influenced by sociocultural, psychological or biological factors. But whether a person is at risk for developing an addiction depends on both genetic and environmental factors. Learn the answer to “Does addiction run in families?”

What Causes Addiction?

There is no single factor that determines whether or not someone will develop an addiction; instead, a combination of factors contributes to a person’s risk of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, biological factors and the environment combine to increase a person’s risk for addiction. 

Biological risk factors include genetics, gender and whether a person has other mental health conditions. Environmental factors such as peer pressure, child abuse, stress, poor parenting and low socioeconomic status can also increase a person’s risk of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. 

Addiction in Families Statistics 

Addiction can run in families, sometimes because of environmental factors and other times because of genetics. Often, it is a combination of genetics and environment that results in addiction running in families. 

One study revealed the following statistics on addiction in families: 

  • Having a mother who is impaired by substance use increases the chance that a child will develop a substance use disorder by 2.19 times.
  • Children whose fathers were impaired by substance use are 2.38 times more likely to develop an addiction.
  • The risk of developing a substance use disorder is 3.17 times greater in children whose mother and father were both impaired by substance use. 
  • The likelihood of having a positive relationship with your mother is reduced by 76% if she is impaired by substance use, and the likelihood of a positive relationship with a father is reduced by 73%.
  • Mothers who are impaired by substance use are 65% less likely to be consistent in their parenting, and fathers who are impaired are 53% less likely to be consistent. 

When a parent has an addiction, they not only increase their child’s risk of developing an addiction; they are also less likely to demonstrate strong parenting practices, which has a detrimental impact on child development. 

Is Addiction Genetic?

Since there is a high risk of addiction among children whose parents also lived with addiction, people often wonder if addiction is genetic. Based on the available research, there does appear to be a genetic predisposition to addiction.

For example, a recent review of genetic studies found that alcohol use disorders are 54% to 64% attributable to genetics, and opioid use disorders are 38% attributable to genes specific to opioids. Marijuana addiction is 51% to 59% due to genetics, and the genetic contribution to cocaine addiction ranges from 40% to 80%. 

Keep in mind that while genetics can increase the risk for addiction, genes do not mean that someone is doomed to become addicted. When there are genetic risk factors, a person is less likely to develop an addiction if they have positive environmental factors, like supportive, responsive parents, consistent discipline, strong academic skills and connections to the community, all of which can protect from addiction.

Environmental Factors and Addiction Risk

Based on the available research, addiction is about 50% due to genetics, with some variation depending upon the specific substance. This means that about half a person’s risk of developing an addiction is also due to environmental factors. 

The environment during childhood contributes significantly to a person’s risk of developing an addiction later in life. Environmental risk factors can interact with genetics to increase or decrease a person’s risk of developing a substance use disorder.

Some environmental risk factors that contribute to the later development of addiction among children and adolescents include:

  • Deviant/drug-using peers
  • Extreme poverty
  • Poor connection to school
  • Lack of adult supervision
  • Easy accessibility of drugs in the community 

Factors for Addiction

Some of the family-related risk factors for addiction are due to genetics passed from parents to children. Other family risk factors relate to the patterns of behavior and relationships that occur within families.

Addiction risk factors related to family issues are as follows:

  • Parental drug use
  • Cold and unresponsive parents
  • Inconsistent or lacking discipline from parents
  • Child abuse
  • Positive parental attitudes toward substance use 
  • Poor bonding between parents and children 

What Should I Do if Addiction Runs in My Family?

Addiction can run in families because of both genetic and environmental factors, but that doesn’t mean you are destined to develop a substance use disorder if there is a family history of addiction. Even if you have genetic risk factors for addiction, there are things you can do to reduce your own risk of developing problems with drugs or alcohol.

If you know addiction runs in your family, you can first reduce your own risk by avoiding the use of drugs or alcohol. This may seem obvious, but the truth is that some people experiment with substances during their teen and young adult years and never develop an addiction. For people with a genetic risk factor, experimentation can quickly escalate to addiction.

Other steps you can take to reduce your risk of addiction include avoiding people who misuse drugs or alcohol, staying committed to your education, setting goals for yourself and exploring career-related interests. Developing positive connections with your community through religion, athletics or cultural experiences is also beneficial. 

How To Lower Your Child’s Risk for Addiction

If you live with an addiction or there is a family history of addiction, there are steps you can take to reduce your child’s risk of developing a substance use disorder. If you are a parent who has an addiction, seeking treatment can reduce the impact of drug use on your life and help you develop stronger parenting skills.

If there is simply a family history of addiction, and you’d like to protect your child(ren), you can take the following steps:

  • Be a present parent who is responsive to your children’s needs.
  • Set a good example by teaching children about the dangers of substance misuse and communicating your disapproval. 
  • Set clear rules for your children, and use consistent discipline.
  • Stay in touch with your children’s teachers and help them be successful in school.
  • Provide close supervision and monitor the peers your children associate with.
  • Involve your children in positive, drug-free activities like sports, youth groups and volunteer opportunities. 

Getting Help for Drug and Alcohol Addiction in Orlando, FL

If you or a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, there is help available. At Orlando Recovery Center, we offer a 93-bed inpatient rehab facility located just outside of downtown Orlando. We also have a sister facility in Maitland, Florida, which offers outpatient care. 

Contact us today to learn about our programs or begin the admissions process.

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abby_doty
Editor – Abby Doty
Abby Doty graduated from Hamline University in 2021 with a Bachelor's in English and Psychology. She has written and edited creative and literary work as well as academic pieces focused primarily on psychology and mental health. Read more
Jenni-Jacobsen
Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more
Sources

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Understanding Drug Use and Addiction DrugsFacts.” June 6, 2018. Accessed August 4, 2022.

Arria, Amelia; Mericle, Amy; Meyers, Kathleen; & Winters, Ken. “Parental substance use impairment, paren[…]e use disorder risk.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, July 2012. Accessed August 4, 2022.

Deak, Joseph & Johnson, Emma. “Genetics of substance use disorders: A review.” Psychological Medicine, 2021. Accessed August 4, 2022.

Youth.gov. “Risk and Protective Factors.” Accessed August 4, 2022.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.