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From chronic diseases to behavioral patterns, doctors know that a person’s genetic makeup can significantly influence their overall health. Addiction to drugs and alcohol is no different.

People whose close family members suffer from addiction may be at greater risk of developing an addiction to drugs and alcohol. However, genetics is not the only factor that affect whether a person will engage in substance abuse. Understanding the risk factors and taking steps to prevent and treat substance abuse are important to help a person live a healthy, fulfilled life free from addiction.

What Does Research Say About Addiction to Drugs and Alcohol?

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, researchers conducted studies of twins and adopted children and discovered that a person with a family history of addiction is more likely to suffer from addiction than someone who does not.1

Researchers have also identified the presence of several genes that seem to put a person at greater risk of developing an addiction to drugs and alcohol. These genetics can affect how a person reacts to drugs and alcohol, and they can increase the likelihood that a person will experience conditions associated with an increased risk for substance abuse, such as antisocial personality disorder.

Having a family history of addiction does not mean a person is doomed to repeat their parents’ mistakes. NCADD estimates that genetic history makes up about 50 percent of a person’s overall risk for developing an addiction.

A number of other factors make up the remaining 50 percent of these risk factors. These include:

  • A person’s environment
  • A person’s individual responses to drugs and alcohol
  • A person’s understanding of the impact of substance abuse

Preventing Drug and Alcohol Abuse

When a person knows they have a family history of substance abuse, they can engage in preventive measures that reduce the chances of developing an addiction themselves.

Some suggestions for prevention from the National Institutes of Health include:

  • Avoid underage drinking, as the risk of developing an addiction is higher for those who begin using substances earlier in life.2
  • Drink moderately, or not at all. Moderate drinking is defined as no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men. Although moderate drinking is associated with some health benefits, a person should not drink more—especially if they come from a family history of addiction.
  • Talk to an addiction treatment specialist or mental health professional. Developing an understanding of addiction and the complicated emotions that can lead to or contribute to addiction can help to prevent it. A mental health professional can help a person deal with the impact substance abuse has had on their family and identify strategies to live a healthier life.

Genetics Don’t Determine Everything

Heredity is only one part of the complicated puzzle related to the abuse of drugs and alcohol. Knowing a person has a family history of problems with drugs and alcohol can influence them to take preventive steps to reduce their own risk of developing an addiction.