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Is Addiction Genetic? How to Stop the Cycle

Feb 28, 2022

Of all the things you may have inherited from your parents, a substance use disorder isn’t one that typically comes to mind. 

Before we answer the question, “Is addiction genetic?” it’s important to understand why family genetics are a significant factor in someone becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. As you look back at how your genetics may have contributed to your need for recovery now, it’s also important to look at your drinking or drug use’s potential impact on your children and grandchildren. Today we’ll introduce five steps to stop the generational cycle of substance use. 

Why Is Addiction Genetic?

Addiction can develop from a variety of factors, including a genetic component. One source, American Psychological Association (APA), says “at least half of a person’s susceptibility to drug or alcohol addiction can be linked to genetic factors.” 

Stopping the generational cycle of substance use is within reach through manageable steps. Treatment is a priority among them. Involving family members in your recovery efforts and modeling positive behavior for next generations are other steps to end the generational cycle of substance use. Learning how addiction has affected your family’s past generations can help you see the big picture of DNA’s impact on your substance use and mental health.

Is addiction genetic?

We can look at any factor contributing to addiction in an isolated way to see its effect on a person. Mental health disorders impact drug and alcohol use, for example. A person’s environment, where they live and spend much of their time, can play a role, too. But, these environmental factors, or what they may learn by watching, are preceded by the same genes they possess.

This biological part of addiction doesn’t mean every child who has a parent with a drug or alcohol addiction will automatically become addicted themselves. It’s not that simple. At the same time, it’s important to understand what role genes serve in increasing the chance of someone developing a substance use disorder.

When we look to the guidance of the American Psychological Association (APA), we see a startling statistic on the topic. The APA says, “at least half of a person’s susceptibility to drug or alcohol addiction can be linked to genetic factors.” It doesn’t make addiction inevitable, though. 

While we know addiction can come from environmental factors and follow traumatic experiences, let’s keep the focus on the family DNA for a moment. One aspect of genes that influences addiction affects your mental health. Mental health disorders are one leading factor in developing substance use issues. Depression and bipolar disorder, for instance, can be inherited from a parent. 

A predisposition for addiction, combined with environmental factors, can lead to harmful drug or alcohol use. Consider a young person who grows up with a chaotic and stressful home life and joins a peer group of adolescent drug users. The desire to fit in with the group may lead to experimenting with drug use to feel a sense of belonging.

5 Steps to Stop the Generational Cycle of Substance Use

A cycle of substance use disorders can continue unchecked in a family for generations. Many stories have been told in books about families whose history with drug and alcohol misuse covers more than a century. Before diagnosis and treatment were readily available, this cycle could easily continue without an end in sight.

Once you recognize the issue of generational substance use in your family, the choice to counteract it is an important one. It may feel overwhelming, though. You’re about to embark on a lifelong journey to bring that cycle to an end, and it will take numerous steps to do it. We’ve outlined five steps to consider first, on your own and with the help of family and friends. 

Step 1: Create a family tree with health and medical histories.

You may have observed a person with a drinking problem in your family, but your awareness of the big picture won’t be complete until you get more information. Identifying health conditions and medical histories of blood relatives going back a couple of generations is one way to start. It takes some effort, but the payoff can be significant. You may discover a maternal grandmother suffered from depression and anxiety for most of her adult life.

Stopping the generational cycle of substance use can be helped by becoming informed about what it looked like in past generations. You’re not only identifying who was affected; you can look at the circumstances of their life that may have contributed to a drinking or drug problem as well. For instance, a parent whose father died at a young age may have turned to substance use to cope with the feelings of grief. 

Gathering information takes time. It may involve talking to loved ones or interviewing people who knew your grandparents, great uncles, and great aunts. If you were adopted, you may need to reach out further for information about your biological family’s medical history. Connecting with biological family members may open the door to discovering other increased risks from hereditary conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and more.

Step 2: Start an ongoing conversation about substance use and mental health with family members.

One person can’t stop what generations of family members have suffered with for decades. This is a point where you enlist the help of loved ones (e.g., siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews). 

Your advocacy for sobriety and good mental health can become a routine part of family conversations. Along the way, you may identify people outside of yourself who need help. You can begin offering your support in their recovery efforts and strengthen your family bonds.

Openly talking about the history of addiction in the family shouldn’t be a source of shame. Ending the cycle can come from accepting what came before and respectfully talking about the people involved. By expressing care for those who lived with addiction in the past, you may invite living family members to open up about their struggles with substance use and mental health.

A family intervention may be necessary to help end the cycle of generational substance use. If you’re the subject of the intervention, focus on why your loved ones want you to get treatment for drug or alcohol addiction. If you’ve reached the point of recovery, you may want to use an intervention to help a family member. Remember to handle a family intervention with care and respect and invite a circle of supporters who understand how to collaborate to give the effort the best chance to succeed.

Step 3: Learn how specific substances affect the body and brain.

Your depth of insight and information in your field makes you an expert. You cultivated that knowledge over time. Now use those same skills to acquire information in a way that can impact your health and well-being and the health and well-being of your family’s next generation. 

Knowledge is power here. Learning the differences among substance use disorders can help you become a valuable resource in the circles in which you travel. There’s a difference between drinking too much and misusing opioids, for example. 

Keep in mind the aim of stopping the generational cycle of substance use doesn’t come from a collection of facts. It’s how those facts are used. We mentioned opioid abuse above. Learning how addictive opioids can be, even in short-term use, is getting an insight into potential pain treatment problems before they begin. Remember, starting recovery from one substance doesn’t eliminate developing an addiction to a new one in the future. 

Step 4: Involve family in your recovery efforts.

One way to get family involved in your recovery early is to invite them to participate in a family program. Many treatment centers offer this service for loved ones of patients. Scheduled and structured visits are a valuable way to generate family support and lay groundwork for new ways of communicating at home. 

As addiction affects the whole family, healing for loved ones is also necessary. A family program can help begin repairing the damage done by addiction over time. It can address a loss of trust, past incidents of violence, lack of reliability, neglect, and other issues connected to substance use. 

In some cases, a patient may have abandoned a family altogether and wants help reconciling with them during treatment. This can be challenging for family members who may resist an invitation to participate. With the help of trained staff, a family intervention may be possible by introducing changes to communication patterns and coping skills. 

Step 5: Model positive behavior for the next generation.

Your experience as a leader at work, in your field, and in your community can be a real asset to your family now. Your career has already enhanced your qualities as a good leader, of course. You’re self-aware and prioritize personal development, focus on developing others, and encourage strategic thinking. 

You can do all the work necessary to live a sober life after treatment. It won’t end the cycle of generational use of substances if you’re not thinking about your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. These are the young minds being molded by the behavior they see from you.

Positive behavior doesn’t mean a flawless life. Modeling positive behavior can come from regularly demonstrating good choices to responding to negative situations in healthy ways. Functioning well as a parent also includes:

  • Providing adequate supervision.
  • Being available when your kids want to talk about problems.
  • Accepting responsibility when you’ve neglected to do something important. 

Past generations tended to keep many things a secret out of shame. Hiding the truth didn’t resolve any problems then, and it won’t now. Getting accustomed to sharing your ongoing work to stay sober may inspire a loved one (now or down the road) to get clean through the help of a treatment program.

Overcome Addiction With Evidence-Based Treatment Programs

Headwaters at Origins is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 844-439-2837.

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