In This Article
In This Article
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.
Genetic tests can analyze your DNA and identify your risk for substance use disorders like alcoholism and opiate addiction.
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.
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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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.
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.
But if you're not sure whether addiction runs in the family, testing for addiction may be a good option.
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 higher likelihoods 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.
People with a heightened risk for addiction should avoid vices and find healthier ways to cope with stressful situations and negative emotions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Whether a genetic test indicates that you are at risk—or not—there are some steps you can take to prevent addiction.
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.
Even without a genetic disposition and exposure to potentially addictive substances or activities, other factors can increase your addiction risk.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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