With over 20 million of Americans having dealt with substance abuse disorders, drug use and addiction are grave problems that leaves many people harmed in this or that way. Scientists have been working on determining the reasons and risk factors of drug abuse for decades. As it happens, one of such factors may be our genes. So what does one need to know if there’s a family history of substance abuse?
Addiction is a complicated chronic disorder followed by high risk of relapse that altogether often leads to one’s maladaptiveness and self-destructive behavior. Though individuals start drug use voluntarily, meaning that they don’t at first have physical cravings to do so, with time developing addiction deprives them of this along with ability to control substance intake.
As National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says, any two people’s genom will be 99,9 percent identical, witn only 0,1 percent of genes in an immense number of variations actually determine our external (appearance) and internal differences (increased vulnerability to certain diseases, including addictions). However, how exactly can one’s genetic pattern affect a person?
- According to various studies, children of parents with addiction history are two to eight times more likely to develop a drug addiction during their lifetime;
- Risk of addiction is high in identical twins and quite low in fraternal ones. This 1999 study of 861 pairs of identical and 653 pairs of fraternal twins has demonstrated that if one identical twin has an addiction, the other is very likely to develop it, too. But this pattern was not true for non-identical twins, where addiction of one of them did not seem to have any significant impact on the health of the other. The study attributed 48-58% of addiction development risk to genetic factors, while the rest is determined by social and environmental ones;
- There is no one specific addiction gene. Studies conducted on mice have shown that addiction is to be associated not with one, but with a number of genes, where ‘genetic basis for addiction has general and specific components for each drug abused’;
So, when researchers talk about ‘addiction genes’, they don’t mean any kind of inevitable destiny of being born or becoming an addict. What they actually talk about is biological differences that might make a person more prone to addiction, thus emphasizing the necessity for these people to take some extra care of themselves and consider their vulnerability. No genetic pattern is able to make one an addict. This is always combination of biological and social factors, with the latter being more significant and influential in regard of developing an addiction. But again, awareness is the key, and risk factors of developing an addiction can be successfully managed.
What precaution measures can one take to reduce the risk of getting addicted to abusive substances? Well, the answer is simple. Actively avoid drug use in your pre-teen and teen years (sounds obvious, but growing and developing body and brain are much more susceptible to drugs that a grown adult’s organism is), limit your time of being in situations where drugs/alcohol are present, moderate your alcohol intake responsibly (binge drinking at university contributes a lot to one’s future chances of developing addiction) and try building non-toxic, supportive relationships with people around you, particularly with family members and close friends. Of course, these recommendations are way too often very hard to follow, but bearing them in mind and taking some effort in this direction is definitely better than doing nothing, especially if one is in a higher-risk group due to their genetics.