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Myths undermining recovery part 5: Addiction is entirely hereditary and cannot be helped

Addiction does not stem purely from genetics. Scientists have estimated roughly 50 percent of an individual’s risk to be based on genetics which leaves half of the equation open to environmental factors and personal experiences. This has created a paradox where some have developed a false sense of confidence about their drug use, whereas, others are discouraged about seeking treatment.

Dr. Andrew Saxon, an addiction psychiatrist at the University of Washington, believes that people’s life experiences and environment, alongside their brain structures and genes, affect the choices they make.

“People who are addicted to drugs aren’t bad people or weak-willed,” Saxon said. “They have a disease in their brain that they were either born with or formed during early life that makes them susceptible to using substances in excess.”

Numerous family, twin and adoption studies have significantly depicted genes that contribute to the development of alcohol dependence, with heritability estimates ranging from 50 to 60 percent for both men and women (McGue 1999). Dependence on illicit drugs has only more recently been investigated in twin samples suggesting that both illicit drug abuse and dependence are subject to significant genetic influence. In these studies of adult samples, heritability estimates ranged from 45 to 79 percent (Tsuang et al. 2001).

According to a study published in Feb. 2012, in the journal Science, researchers compared the brain structures and control over impulses of pairs of siblings and unrelated, healthy people. They discovered addicts and their siblings to share similar abnormalities in the brain, while healthy participants did not possess any such abnormal traits. Performance of the siblings during tests of their self-control was observed to be poor.

Since the siblings who weren’t addicted already shared similar brain abnormalities with the addicted, the study suggested brain differences to be a cause of addiction, rather than a result of drug use. These abnormalities included a decline in the density of white matter in the front region of the brain, suggesting lower self-control and an increase in gray matter in the middle regions of the brain, suggesting a stronger ability to form habits.

“There is a biological basis why people suffer from addiction,” said lead author Karen Ersche, a neuroscientist who researches addictive behavior at the University of Cambridge in England. “This study suggests that some brains predispose people to become addicted, should they decide to use drugs. We need to find out how these non-addicted siblings were able to resist using drugs.”

For children and teens, lack of parental involvement can lead to risk-taking tendencies or experimentation with alcohol or drugs. Young people who experience abuse or neglect from parents may also be more susceptible to drugs or alcohol abuse to cope with their emotions.

In young adults, peer pressure is a major risk factor for addiction. Pressure from friends to fit in or be accepted can create a basis for addiction. Furthermore, the easy availability of alcohol or drugs for college students may also make it much easier for a young adult to become addicted.

Environmental factors can be so strong that an addict in recovery usually needs to avoid certain situations or people that could trigger a relapse. This holds true even after a long period of sobriety. Elements such as stress, trauma, depression, anxiety, loss and failure all play an integral role in the development of addiction.

The Drug and Alcohol Recovery Helpline is available for you any time of day. Our representatives are committed to making the process of recovery for you as easy and stress-free as possible. To learn more about how and where to start the recovery process today you can call us for more information at 855-441-4405.

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