How To Test For The Addictive Gene
Updated on February 9, 2024
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How To Test For The Addictive Gene

It’s important to point out that there is no addiction gene. There are just certain genetic predispositions you may inherit that can lead to addiction, alongside environmental influences.

It’s no secret that drug addiction is hereditary. If a family member struggles with addiction, it puts you at greater risk than someone who doesn’t have an addiction in the family. The risk is higher if it’s a first-degree relative who is addicted (i.e., parents, siblings, or children).

Of course, having a higher risk doesn’t guarantee you will also develop an addiction. Your lifestyle, choices, health, and environment are what determine your likelihood of addiction, not just your genetic makeup.

Genetic testing can analyze your DNA and identify your risk for substance use disorders like alcoholism and opiate addiction.

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Top DNA Tests For Addiction Risk

Many commercial DNA tests like 23andMe can assess your genetic risk for various conditions like asthma, hypertension, and high cholesterol. 

Unfortunately, this usually doesn’t include your risk for addiction or substance abuse disorder specifically. They’ll look into your genetic addiction risk severity and provide a breakdown of how susceptible you are.

Instead, we recommend AvertD and Genetic Addiction Risks (GARS). These tests look for genetic markers associated with a higher addiction risk.

As with any DNA test, there are pros and cons to genetic testing.

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AvertD by Solvd Health – Best for Opioid Addiction

  • Assess your risk for opioid use disorder (OUD)
  • A clinically-validated test administered by a doctor
  • Painless sample collection (cheek swab)
  • Analyzes samples in CLIA-approved labs
  • Tests 15 genetic markers linked to addiction
  • Get your results within 48 hours

Genetic Addiction Risk Score (GARS) – Best for Substance Use Disorder

  • Clinical prescription-only test
  • It can assess an entire family’s risk for addiction
  • Predicts the severity of drug dependence and alcohol addiction
  • Can help you determine any potential for substance abuse

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Genetic Testing & Your Risk for Substance Abuse Disorder

Researchers have successfully identified genetic variations that are associated with a higher risk of drug addiction and alcohol dependence. This also helps them predict how severe a future addiction will likely be.

These genetic tests look for reward gene polymorphisms that, when exposed to certain environmental factors, increase your risk for impulsive, compulsive, and addictive behaviors like alcohol use disorder, cannabis use disorder, or addiction to illegal drugs.

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Source: 123rf

It’s important to note that just because someone in your family suffers from drug abuse doesn’t mean that gene was passed on to you. There are no addiction genes, so you are not guaranteed to develop addictive disorders.

However, if you’re not sure whether addiction runs in the family or if your older relatives also have the genes that often make addiction easier to occur, testing for addiction may be a good option. These are what DNA tests detect when “testing for addiction.”

Addiction can affect anyone regardless of age. DNA testing can help you make lifestyle decisions and take the appropriate steps needed to prevent addiction.

So can a DNA test predict addiction? Not necessarily, but it can give you a heads-up.


Genetic testing can identify genetic variations scientifically linked to a higher likelihood of addiction. There are no addiction genes per se, just inherited reward-seeking behavior that lends itself to compulsive and addictive behaviors.

It can be helpful to run a DNA test to determine if you have any tendency towards potential substance abuse. Making informed lifestyle decisions can curb any possibility of addiction.

What Do You Inherit That Makes You More Susceptible to Substance Abuse?

Again, you don’t inherit some kind of “addiction gene.” Addiction is a complex interplay of several genetic factors, genetic susceptibility, and your environment.

Here are some traits and genetic risk factors you may inherit that make you more likely to develop a substance use disorder:

  • Dopamine levels and how easily triggered dopamine production is (considering the release of dopamine may feed an unhealthy reward loop you will always want to fulfill for a high)
  • Impulse control
  • Vulnerability to mental health conditions or psychiatric disorders
  • Alcohol metabolism
  • Low pain tolerance
  • How much protein is made

Here are some lifestyle and environmental factors that can affect your risk for addiction:

  • Exposure to others with addiction problems
  • Peer pressure or influence
  • Socioeconomic factors
  • Community, especially if substance abuse is common
  • Stress, quality of life, and trauma
  • Chronic pain

So while there is a genetic basis for addiction, it’s not, in itself, inherited. The factors that may make you turn to substances are in your genes, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that if one relative has an addiction problem, you will too.

What To Do If You Have A Genetic Risk for Addiction

People with a heightened risk for addiction should avoid vices and find healthier ways to cope with stressful situations and negative emotions. This is because, while you’re not guaranteed to develop an addiction, there’s still an important genetic component to consider.

These genetic factors put you at elevated risk, so you need to find healthy ways to manage pain, stress, or discomfort.

This means not only avoiding drugs or alcohol when you are unhappy, anxious, or upset. You may also need to stay away from social gatherings where addictive substances are involved. Avoiding these substances altogether will help you avoid substance abuse.

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It’s also important to make sure you maintain your overall well-being. The healthier you are, the less likely will trigger the addictive behaviors embedded in your DNA.

This is especially true if you have mental health disorders that are known to co-occur with addiction. Examples include depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.


If you do have a genetic risk for addiction, avoiding vices altogether is your best bet. Finding healthy coping mechanisms and managing your stress well is also helpful, as it decreases your likelihood of depending on substances and risky behavior.

People with co-occurring mental health disorders should also take extra care, as their mental health may push them much easier to addiction.

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Source: 123rf

Nature vs. Nurture & Its Role On Addiction

Let’s start with a centuries-old debate: nature vs. nurture. Is it our biology that determines who we are and what happens to us, or is it our circumstances?

Most scientists can agree that addiction results from both nature and nurture. They cannot agree on what’s more important, probably because it varies from person to person.

In some people, the environment overrides their genetic predisposition. But in other cases, genetic factors have a stronger hold.

Genetically, your DNA can influence addiction by affecting how you react to addictive substances and how your body metabolizes them. Substance abuse can arise from how your body reacts to addictive substances, which can be strongly influenced by your genetics.

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Reaction To Addictive Drugs

Most researchers agree that one of the primary links between DNA and addiction is the so-called reward pathways of the brain.

How your brain reacts to a drug influences whether or not you will develop an addiction to it. In a way, it’s your body’s way of warning you.

If you experience a great deal of pleasure from using a drug, that reaction is likely programmed into your DNA. This puts you at a higher risk for addiction. The release of dopamine can feel good, so you’re likely to replicate that behavior to feel the same way.

This is called a brain reward cascade, which, under normal circumstances, is healthy and encourages repeat behavior. However, with harmful substances, it can be dangerous.

Consequently, someone whose brain has a less intense reaction to drugs is less likely to get addicted. If substance addiction runs in your family, it’s probably better not to experiment. You will more likely find it difficult to control your use of drugs and/or alcohol when exposed to these substances.

Drugs of abuse pose a serious danger due to their potential for addiction and harmful effects on your health.


When your brain derives an elevated amount of pleasure from a substance or pattern of behavior, you’re more likely to have an inherited tendency towards addiction because you will likely seek that pleasurable feeling over and over. Reactions that aren’t so extreme often reflect a decreased likelihood of addiction.

Source: 123rf

Metabolism of Drugs & Alcohol

In addition to the initial reaction to a substance, genetics also plays a role in how your body metabolizes substances. This, too, can affect your risk for drug addiction.

If you have a slow metabolism that prevents your body from quickly getting rid of the toxins in substances, you’re less likely to develop an addiction because the “hangover” is so unpleasant.

On the other hand, if your body bounces back quickly, you’re less likely to be deterred by the aftermath of a binge. It can give you a reason to continue using the substance.

You can see this in people of East Asian heritage. East Asians tend to process alcohol very slowly. This means that after drinking for a period, they often feel uncomfortable.

This biological factor shared within their DNA has resulted in a lower risk for an alcohol abuse disorder. It doesn’t mean you can’t develop alcoholism if you have an East Asian heritage, but it does mean you have a lower risk.


Slower metabolisms may lower the risk of addiction because of the prolonged “hangover” effect, making the pleasurable experience less desirable. Quicker metabolisms tend to help you overcome any fatigue or hungover feeling, leading to a quicker pleasure loop and, potentially, addiction.

Tips To Reduce Your Addiction Risk

Whether a genetic test indicates that you are at risk—or not—there are some steps you can take to prevent addiction.

Limit Your Access to Potential Vices

Other than genetics, the largest risk factor for addiction is exposure and access to places or activities where there are drugs and alcohol.

Those with a genetic predisposition should make choices that limit the availability of a potential vice.

You won’t always be able to avoid some substances or activities. For example, opioids are required in some instances of injury, surgery, or pain. But you can take active measures to control your intake and limit use. Communication with a support network of family, friends, or medical professionals is paramount.

Seek Treatment for Co-morbid Illness

Even without a genetic disposition and exposure to potentially addictive substances or activities, other factors can increase your addiction risk. Genetic studies have shown that many genes contribute to complex situations like addiction, so if you’re already suffering from an illness, make sure you look into it.

For instance, there is a strong link between addiction and depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Seeking effective treatment for any psychological disorder will immediately reduce the risk of co-morbid substance abuse.

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Source: 123rf

Manage Your Stress Levels

Stress can severely impact your physical and mental health. Not only can it push you towards substance abuse and addiction, but it can also change how some genes function.

Long-lasting stress can eventually cripple your brain’s reward system–a phenomenon that can persist even after the stress is long gone.

Stress management is a significant step toward decreasing your risk for addiction.

Know When to Ask for Help

Finally, if you struggle with any form of drug or alcohol abuse, you don’t need a DNA test before seeking help.

Addiction negatively affects a person’s life. And it’s important that you seek addiction treatment as soon as possible.

If you are having difficulty staying away from drugs or alcohol, please seek help from family, friends, or medical professionals. They can help you explore your options and make treatment decisions on your behalf. Your healthcare professional can also conduct a comprehensive clinical assessment to determine how they can best help you.


In order to avoid addiction, follow these steps:

  • Limit access to potential vices
  • Seek treatment, especially if you have any co-morbidities like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc.
  • Manage stress in a healthy way
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help from loved ones and professionals

SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

If you or your loved ones are suffering from addiction, look into treatment centers for treatment plans, potential medical monitoring, support, and psychiatric help.

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Updated on February 9, 2024
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Updated on February 9, 2024
Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad
Content Contributor
Angela is a full-time digital content manager and editor for Know Your DNA. She also contributes freelance articles to several local and international websites when she has the time. She's always been a voracious believer in finding the truth and ensuring the science is sound.