Many factors contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. Scientists have debated whether substance use disorders are born of nature or nurture, or a combination of both. Presently, there is widespread acceptance of the later, with most research pointing to addiction as the result of genetics and the environment. Consequently, a family history of addiction has proven to be one of the highest risk factors for addiction. There are two main reasons for this:
First, addiction has a strong genetic component. Research has identified a number of specific genes that can affect a person’s risk of developing a substance use disorder. For example, one specific dopamine receptor gene is more common in people who are addicted to alcohol, cocaine, or opioids. Genes don’t cause addiction, per se, but certain genes make addiction more likely under certain circumstances. The risk is greatest when you have a parent or a sibling–especially a twin–with a substance use disorder. Still, having a grandparent, aunt, or uncle that struggles with addiction can also increase your risk.
Second, a family history of addiction increases your risk of addiction through environmental influence. Excessive alcohol and/or drug use is often normalized in households with active substance users and children are more likely to emulate those behaviors as adults. Additionally, drugs and/or alcohol are more accessible in these homes, often leading to experimentation with substances at an early age. Finally, living with a parent that struggles with a substance use disorder can create a chaotic home life. Order and structure are often lacking, promoting dysfunction and a lack of supervision. Children of addicted parents are more often abused and/or neglected. Conversely, they may bear witness to abuse or have other adverse childhood experiences. All of these factors increase the risk of addiction as adults. If there is a history of addiction in your family, the following are precautions you can take to limit your risk of addiction.
The first precautionary step to limit your risk of developing an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol is to learn about your family history. Families often like to keep family members’ substance use issues quiet, even within the family. You may have even been told as a child not to talk about a parent’s drinking or erratic behavior. While the impulse behind this secrecy is to protect the family, it often causes more harm than good. Having awareness around a family history of substance abuse is just as important as knowing if heart disease or diabetes runs in your family. Addiction is genetically inclined and some family members may be at risk without even knowing it. Support yourself and your future by asking questions about your family’s history with addiction.
Limiting your drinking and drug use is another sensible precaution. Just how much you limit it depends on your circumstances. If both your parents have an alcohol use disorder, it’s probably better to avoid alcohol altogether. Opting for moderation due to the knowledge of a tendency towards heavier drinking in your extended family is probably a smart course to take. Above all, remember that addiction is genetic. Therefore, if it is present anywhere in your family history, you are at a greater risk of developing an addiction yourself. Be responsible with your consumption.
Be aware of the warning signs to support the early detection of a substance use problem in the case that one begins to arise. For example, if you feel like you need a drink to relax or cope with stress, that should be a huge red flag. When you find yourself lying about how much you drink or trying to hide your drinking from people, that’s yet another cause for concern. More serious signs include canceling plans or defaulting on obligations because you’d rather stay home and drink. Another serious indication of addiction is the inability to stop drinking once you start, even if you don’t drink very often. Watch out for these signs in yourself and your family. Catching a problem early will save you a lot of trouble down the road.
Many people don’t think their family’s substance use history is relevant for their medical care but it often is. Just as it’s important for your doctor to be aware of a family history of cancer or heart disease, it is equally important to discuss risks associated with a family history of addiction. Of those addicted to opioids, for example, more than half of women and a third of men first used these medications when they were prescribed by their doctor. Some people with a family history of addiction–and many people with a personal history of addiction–would prefer to tolerate the pain rather than accept the risk associated with the consumption of opioids. In such instances, giving your doctors full knowledge of your genetic predispositions will help them to better support you and your health. If your doctors are going to accommodate your concerns, they have to know about them first.
Addiction is typically the result of a combination of genes and the environment. There’s nothing you can do about your genes and, unfortunately, you can’t go back in time to change your childhood environment. You can, however, change how that environment affects you presently. Individuals who grew up in a house with addiction are often victims of abuse and/or neglect. Talking to a therapist about these experiences can prove to be quite helpful, even if you aren’t fully aware of any psychological issues they may have caused. Often, people discover that they’ve been living with depression, anxiety, and/or other mental health issues as a result of seeking help for substance use. Accepting support in the form of therapy can save you a lot of pain in the future.
It may not be appropriate to tell your young child that her uncle is in jail for heroin possession. However, at some point, your children need to know if they are at risk for addiction, and it may be younger than you think. Being honest with your child about genetic risks should be part of an ongoing, age-appropriate conversation about drugs and alcohol. More specific information can be shared with them as they get older. Start the conversation before your kids reach adolescence, at which point, they will be more influenced by their friends. Be matter-of-fact about the dangers of substance use. Build trust and credibility by allowing space for questions and discussion. Getting comfortable with these topics young will allow your children to seek guidance from you as they grow.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you towards a life of recovery. With our individualized treatment programs and transitional services, we are committed to helping you find the option that will best suit your needs. If you are ready to take the next steps towards a life free from addiction to drugs and/or alcohol, Hired Power is here to help. Call us today for a consultation at 714-559-3919.
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