How Genetics Can Increase Your Likelihood Of Substance Abuse

Although addiction is often discussed as a moral and societal issue, it may be more productive to consider it as a genetic disease. In fact, recent research has found that your genes may account for as much as 60 percent of your vulnerability to drug addiction. Finding the root of addiction, however, will never be as simple as tracking down a single gene. By understanding how your genes can influence your propensity for addiction, you can learn how your body uniquely responds to drugs and adapt your substance abuse treatment to counter those responses. 

Increasing Your Chances of Addiction

Every person's brain is a little different, including how it processes chemical reactions. For instance, people who are born with fewer D2 dopamine receptors are more likely to become addicts than those with more. Similarly, individuals who are addicted to cocaine or alcohol are more likely to have the A1 allele in one the genes governing those dopamine receptors. 

Your likelihood of developing an addiction is also partially determined by how your body responds to drugs. Some individuals are blessed with genes that suppress their reaction to addictive substances. Others, however, metabolize drugs quickly, consuming more of a substance to get the same effect and risking addiction as a result. For example, people with a certain mutation in their ALDH2 gene are less likely to develop alcoholism, while a mutation in the genes governing your circadian cycles can leave you predisposed to alcohol abuse. 

Heightening Withdrawal Symptoms

Not only can your genes affect your response to drugs and your chances of addiction, but they can also increase the severity of withdrawal symptoms. One study found that mice susceptible to certain types of drugs also experience heightened withdrawals for that drug, including a greater vulnerability to withdrawal-induced seizures. This can make recovery more difficult to accomplish on your own, and individuals with these genetic differences will likely need the help of a substance abuse treatment program to detox successfully.  

Understanding How Your Family's History Can Influence Your Addiction

If you have family members who also suffer from addiction, you are more likely to become an addict yourself. It is important to recognize that, in many ways, addiction is a genetic disease, and your family should treat it as such. You will always need to take substance abuse more seriously than others, but it does not need to control your life. By understanding your genetic tendency toward addiction, you will be able to treat it like the medical condition it is, working with professionals to control your urges and avoid future relapses.