As with any health condition or disease, certain risk factors can play a role in the development of acute and chronic illnesses. These can include a genetic predisposition as well as certain environmental conditions. Like the old adage, nurture vs nature, a family history of disease and certain living conditions can increase the risk of disease, including drug and/or alcohol addiction.
Genetic and Environmental Risk Factors Can Lead to Addiction
Addiction can happen to people at any age despite education, race, or economic status. And while these genetic and environmental risk factors do not mean addiction is inevitable, they can play a role and increase the likelihood of substance misuse and addiction.
Genetic Risk Factors
Our genes play a complex role and can contribute to someone’s susceptibility to substance misuse and addiction, meaning substance misuse disorder and addiction can run in families. Understanding how genetics are intertwined with addiction can help dispel stigma around addiction and create better prevention and treatment plans for individuals.
DNA is referred to as the building block of life. These building blocks house our genetic code and determine distinct features such as our sex, hair and eye color, as well as certain health conditions. According to the American Society of Human Genetics, 99% of the DNA sequencing is shared across the population of people, and our uniqueness comes from the remaining 1% and inherited or acquired variations. Also known as mutations, variations can increase the risk of specific diseases.
For instance, a study at the Howard Hugues Medical Institute found a connection between a specific DNA protein and addiction. The investigators found that lower levels of the specific protein affected memory, learning, and showed increased vulnerability to cocaine. The research subjects with normal levels of the protein showed greater capacity for learning and remembering and a lowered vulnerability to cocaine addiction. Since cocaine spikes dopamine release, it was further thought this protein may play a role in other types of addiction, such as alcohol, morphine, nicotine, and heroin.
Mental health conditions passed on through genes can also place greater risk on individuals. Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and ADHD are hereditary conditions, and research shows untreated mental health conditions can impose a greater risk of substance misuse and addiction.
While researchers have not identified a specific alcohol or drug gene, they have found several genes that can play a role in developing drug and/or alcohol addiction and even some that may protect certain individuals from developing the disease.
Environmental Risk Factors
Where we grow up and spend our time as an adult can influence drug and/or alcohol addiction. Compared to genetic influences, environmental risk factors can be easier to detect because we can typically see them. Some of the most common environmental factors that can influence drug and/or misuse and addiction include our family and home environment, school, friendships, media and celebrity culture, and social media.
Early exposure to substance abuse can lead to experimentation, misuse, and addiction. This can be at home observing a caregiver or peer pressure from friends or other acquaintances. Other factors can include poor family dynamics, neglect, abuse, or other harmful traumatic experiences, such as sexual abuse or assault, bullying, and, of course, using addictive substances.
Protective Factors to Implement
While we cannot always control our environment or decide our family genes, there are some protective factors individuals can put into action to help decrease the risk of drug and/or alcohol addiction.
Although addiction can happen at any age, adolescents are more vulnerable and susceptible to peer pressure, poor self-esteem, and curiosity. Some protective factors during this time include developing resilience and grit, strong parental involvement, an attachment to community, careful peer selection, and strive for success in school and the future. Adults can borrow many of the same protective factors. These may seem or feel unusual if never practiced before, but in time, many adults find greater resilience to drug and/or alcohol misuse and addiction.
It’s important to note, not everyone exposed to risk factors for addiction develops the condition, and addiction may occur without any genetic or environmental disposition. If you or a loved one need help, speak with a recovery expert at Pura Vida.