Is Addictive Personality Genetic?

Is Your Addictive Personality Genetic?


The genes you inherit from your natural parents make the code that defines everything, from your eye color to your blood type. But genes are so much more complex than physical characteristics, and every year addiction scientists come closer and closer to identifying the precise genes that can point to addiction.

Although we cannot entirely attribute addictive personality disorder to genetics, we do know that individuals with addicted family members are at least 50 percent more likely to develop addiction themselves. Does that mean you’ll automatically become addicted later in life if someone in your family has a chronic substance abuse problem? No, but it does mean you have to be a lot more careful with your choices.

Addiction and Genetics: Understanding the Statistics

Every year we understand a little bit more about how and why individuals develop addiction, but parents and children are often in the dark. One of the best ways to protect yourself and your family members from addiction is to understand the shocking statistics — statistics you might not think apply to you. For example:

  • Children of drug addicts are eight times more likely to get addicted themselves.
  • Of the 30,000 genes in the body, about 89 are linked to addictive personality. Of these 89 genes, 21 are linked to triggers and desires for using.
  • About 67 percent of high schoolers nationwide report that buying drugs at school is possible.
  • Half of all children live with a parent who abuses drugs. 24 percent of kids live with a parent who binge drinks.
  • People who suffered a fatal overdose were more likely to get drugs from a family member or friend — and not a pusher on the street.
  • People who die from painkiller abuse are more likely to have abused drugs recreationally versus suffering from an active addiction

While everyone has a genetic predisposition to addiction, some people are likelier than others to wind up consumed by their addictive tendencies. With alcohol or drugs, some users initially consume in moderation and only later develop full-blown dependencies, while others resort to excessive use from the start.

Persistent use of drugs rewires the mind’s chemistry. Whether you’re born with a high or low genetic predisposition to drug abuse, you could ultimately become a hardcore addict. The abuse could be exacerbated by poor coping mechanisms on your part, in which case your brain would end up totally rewired. With each shot or hit, you would reinforce the effects that the mind associates with alcohol or drugs, thereby compelling yourself to repeat the experience.

Is Addiction Hereditary?

double-helixBecause addiction is in part hereditary, it’s not uncommon for random members of the same family to be affected. For instance, a great grandfather might not pass a genetic predisposition to drug addiction down to any of his four children. However, it could affect one of his grandsons, but skip his granddaughter, only to affect one of her children.

Trouble is, few people have much knowledge about the substance abuse of immediate family members, because it’s traditionally been considered an uncomfortable topic of discussion. In decades past, the topic of drug use among relatives was often swept under the rug in many households, due in large part to a lack of knowledge on addiction and treatment. When a parent would regularly come home intoxicated, the matter would be viewed with confusion and hopelessness among relatives. Consequently, the children in such households would get first-hand exposure to the effects of poor coping skills, and some of these children would unconsciously fall into the same pattern. It has only been through decades of study that researchers have been able to identify links in addictive behavior from one generation to the next.

Big, extended families are often used in case studies to pinpoint which genes might determine addictive traits in certain members. The DNA of addicted family members is analyzed for similarities that don’t appear in the DNA of nonaddicted relatives. One thing that complicates these studies is the lifestyle differences among members of big families. Since that doesn’t apply as much to the animal kingdom, studies have often been conducted on other species to find links between genetics and addiction, as well.

Studies of Genetic Predispositions in Mice

Mice are the animal most frequently used in studies where the purpose is to identify which genes correlate to addictive behavior. The reason why mice have been good subjects for this line of research is due to their reward pathway, which operates in a similar way to humans. Therefore, when a discovery is made in the role that a gene plays in the addictive patterns of mice, human DNA is examined for the counterpart gene, which helps scientists understand the genetic predisposition to addiction in people.

One of the primary objectives behind genetic research is the development of treatment formulas. Every time scientists manage to pinpoint a gene with ties to addiction, it becomes the basis for a potential formula that could modify the behavior of that gene. In the development of treatments, it also helps to understand how variations work in addiction genes. After all, the effects of a medication will in part depend on the genetics of a given individual. Hopefully, future findings will help doctors determine the right medications for drug treatment based on the genetic profile of each recovering addict.

The following list compiles a number of genes with ties to addiction, and most of them were discovered through animal research:

  • ALDH2 – people with two copies of this gene are unlikely to become alcoholics.
  • Cnr1 – the cannabinoid receptor gene; mice who lack it are not as responsive to morphine.
  • Creb – morphine addiction is unlikely among mice who lack this gene.
  • CYP2A6 – a protective allele of this gene is more common in nonsmokers, and it makes them more prone to nausea from tobacco exposure.
  • DRD2 – the dopamine receptor gene; its A1 allele is more enhanced among alcoholics and cocaine addicts.
  • Htr1b – the serotonin receptor gene; mice who lack it are more drawn to alcohol and cocaine.
  • Mpdz – mice with a more pronounced presence of this gene showed milder withdrawal symptoms from barbiturates and other hypnotic sedatives.
  • Per2 – mice consume three times as much alcohol when this gene is defective.


Cross Addiction

If anyone in your family has been addicted to drugs or alcohol, there’s a greater possibility that you too could become an addict. The drug in question doesn’t even matter; if your uncle was addicted to heroin, it could make you more susceptible to a speed or cocaine addiction. Since addictions stem from the same area of the brain, the drugs in question are interchangeable. Basically, if you’re prone to one type of addiction, you could easily become addicted to anything. Women with family histories of addiction should especially take note of this, because it’s not uncommon for women to get unintentionally hooked on legal yet dangerously addictive substances like pain relievers and tranquilizers.

If you relapse on an addiction, it could be with a drug you never even took in the first place. At the same time, you can’t really break free from one addiction while casually dabbling in other hard drugs. For example, if you’re trying to kick a heroin habit, you’ll also need to stop drinking alcohol and taking occasional hits of cocaine. Even casual use of other substances could lead you back to hardcore heroin use. In a nutshell, recovery necessitates total withdrawal from all drugs.

The pattern of cross addiction works like this:

  • Addiction mechanisms are rooted in the same section of the brain. Since all addictive drugs are addictive, the consumption of one such drug can lead someone in recovery back to his or her original drug of choice.
  • Moderate consumption of alcohol or pot can still impact your judgment and make it difficult to distinguish right from wrong.
  • If you free yourself from a heavy heroin habit, yet dabble occasionally in crack or ecstasy, the addictive part of your mind will get the message that you haven’t made the effort to gain new coping skills. The message you’ll send instead is that you lack the confidence to live your life without the mind-altering effects of hard drugs. Without that commitment to a drug-free life, you’ll unconsciously reaffirm your addictive tendencies, and the urge to take heroin could soon get the better of you all over again.

Identifying an Addictive Personality

risky activitiesIt is extremely difficult to predict who will and won’t become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Genetics is a factor, but it’s not the only factor — other influences, such as environment, also play a large role. What all addicted individuals share with one another is a compulsive need to get high to avoid conflict, manage stress and reduce pressure. Another common thread is impulsivity. Although everyone occasionally demonstrates poor judgment, the addictive personality engages in risky behavior, frequently and habitually, without considering the consequences.

There are more common traits shared by addictive personalities. They include:

  • Always seeking new sensations and experiences. A constant desire to try new and untested things can lead to dangerous experimentation, and sometimes, addiction.
  • Ignoring social norms. When an individual ignores common achievement goals, it becomes more difficult to notice when problems arise at home or work — problems that often indicate a growing substance abuse problem.
  • Deliberately alienating themselves. A greater tolerance for deviance means experimenting with dangerous substances is far more likely.
  • Demonstrating compulsive behavior. Acting without regard for consequences is a hallmark of addiction, especially when combined with the other traits.

Changing Attitudes Toward Addiction

Now that addiction is less stigmatized, the time is better than ever to open up about issues of drug or alcohol abuse that either you or someone in your household might be facing. By sharing your own struggles with addiction, you might gain insights on the topic as others spill the beans on their own past struggles with the same substances.

One of the most important aspects of household drug recovery is the impact it can have on children. Even though your kids may have genetic predisposition to drug use, it shouldn’t be the only thing you pass on to them. If you work to instill good coping skills in your children, it could increase the likelihood that they’ll stay off drugs. It can all start by setting a good example for them with your own behavior.

Is Addiction a Disease?

high-powered-executive-addictionLike many common diseases, addiction can develop from a mix of genetics and poor lifestyle choices. Comparisons could be made with heart disease, which is partly down to genetics but can also be attributed to smoking, unhealthy food consumption and sedentary habits. Diabetes and cancer can also result from a mix of these factors. Thing is, there is never any shame associated with heart disease, diabetes or cancer; and for that same reason, you shouldn’t feel shame about alcohol or drug addiction. Instead, the approach to handling an addiction should be the same as with other conditions, where you seek help and work toward recovery.

By the same token, addiction should never be viewed as a weakness. Uninformed people will sometimes accuse addicts of being weak-willed, unmotivated or lazy. Fact is, addiction affects 10 percent of people who hold high-powered executive positions. If addiction was down to a lack of morals or willpower, it would only affect the lowest elements of society. The fact that it crosses all cultural, economic and lifestyle boundaries confirms addiction’s status as a disease. Therefore, you shouldn’t view addiction as something that can be overcome with willpower; you’d only run the risk of falling into further drug abuse and despair. You should instead treat addiction as a disease in need of special care from clinical professionals.

What to Do About Addiction

family-counselingFor most addicts, sobriety is not something that can be achieved cold turkey after a lengthy period of heavy drug use. Addiction is a very self-perpetuating condition that’s partially rooted in genetics and partially down to poor coping skills, but the longer it persists, the heavier and more insurmountable it can become for an individual. Even for people who manage to keep their drug use in moderation, the toll that it can take on one’s energy and mental clarity can be draining and counterproductive.

Luckily, methods have developed over the last two decades that are based on a more personalized approach to recovery. With the acknowledgment that addiction is a disease, these new methods tout sobriety as a lifelong commitment, and treat each individual according to his or her own genetically hardwired physical and psychological needs.

The 12 Keys Rehab Model

At 12 Keys Rehab, those in recovery receive the support and treatment that are necessary for building a happy, productive, drug-free life. Situated along the waterfront of south Florida, our 10-acre spread provides ample room to heal in mind and body through a series of relaxing, holistic treatments. With our ratio of four clients per staff member, we’re able to give everyone full attention and customized treatments to the specific needs of each individual.

Traditional drug treatment typically applies a uniform approach for all. At 12 Keys Rehab, we understand that each person is an individual with his or her own psychological issues, mental wiring and bodily chemistry. Therefore, we evaluate the reactions of each client to various situations and then use those insights to tailor the treatment in a way best suited to the individual. Early on in the treatment, the issues that drive a client’s addiction will come to light. As the treatment progresses, the client will gradually have different responses, which help determine the subsequent course of treatment.

victor-balta_mdHeading the treatment team at 12 Keys Rehab is our board-certified, 25-year psychiatrist and psychotherapist Dr. Balta, who specializes in trauma, mental and behavior health issues. Approaching detox from a unique angle, Dr. Balta guides clients through the process in a setting where relaxation is a top priority.

Each client obtains a sponsor, where one-on-one and group meetings form a huge part of the overall treatment. On a daily basis, clients assemble in meetings to share stories and give and receive support from one another. Later on in the day, coaches supervise peer meetings in which clients discuss problems. Clients grow more connected through these meetings, where everyone learns that addiction is a common thing and that no one is alone in his or her struggle.

The steps that we use are based on a classic therapeutic model first established in the mid 1930s. Designed to awaken the spirits and heal the lives of clients, our model provides a universal support network for people who wish to free themselves of drug or alcohol dependency. During the course of recovery, insights are gained about a client’s psychology and how it all relates to his or her addiction. This helps us treat the addiction itself, as well as related, broken areas in the client’s life. At 12 Keys Rehab, support and aftercare are also offered to the loved ones of clients in our program.

The ravages of drug addiction and the toll it takes on users and loved ones is well understood here at 12 Keys Rehab, where all of our counselors have also recovered from substance abuse. If you or someone you love is struggling to break free from drug or alcohol addiction, contact 12 Keys Rehab, because anyone can achieve sobriety with proper care and guidance.


The Addiction Blog