Genetics and Substance Abuse: What is the Link?

Have you ever been told that you look just like your mom or your dad? Or maybe someone has told you that you have your mom’s eyes. Maybe you started going grey early or losing your hair early and have told people that it runs in your family. All these are examples of our genes and how those hereditary features impact our lives. 

Our genes and our genetic makeup go far beyond just our physical appearance. They can affect our brain makeup and can be the reason why we might act or behave in certain ways. Our genetic makeup can be a contributing factor when it comes to mental health and in some cases even addiction

In this blog, we will take a look at the role our genes play when it comes to addiction and answer the question of what is the link between hereditary and drug addiction.

What’s the Difference Between Something Being Genetic and Hereditary?

Before we go more in-depth about the connection between genetics and addiction and the role it plays, it is important to understand what genetics is and what hereditary is. Oftentimes, the terms genetics and heredity are used interchangeably. It’s a common misconception that they are the same thing. That is not the case though, and it’s important to know the difference between the two.


Heredity is used to describe the different characteristics and traits that are passed down from parents to their children. This is done through DNA and genes. These traits can be things such as height, eye color, and baldness.


Genetics is the study of genes or heredity. Genes are parts of your DNA that are passed down to you from your parents. Genes are housed on chromosomes and each person has 46 chromosomes in 23 pairs. Every person gets one of each pair from their mother and one of each pair from their father with the entire process being completely random. 

Can Your Genetics Play a Role In Addiction?

Since parents pass down their own genes to their children, certain diseases and ailments can be passed down in addition to things like eye color and height. This can include various diseases, mental health conditions, and in some cases even addiction. While this doesn’t automatically mean that if addiction runs in your family you are guaranteed to become an addict, what it does mean is that you have the “addictive gene”. This can result in an increased risk that you might develop an addiction of some sort in your lifetime. 

Are There Specific Genes Associated With Addiction?

There isn’t one specific addiction gene. That being said, multiple genes can be associated with addiction. In addition, certain genes are associated with addiction to specific substances as well. Let’s take a look at some of these genes and the substance or substances they are most commonly associated with.

  • ADH1B and ALDH2 – Both of these genes are associated with alcoholism and alcohol addiction. Also known as alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase, these two genes play a large role in the way the body metabolizes alcohol. People that have either higher ADH1B activity or lower ALDH2 activity are more likely to experience adverse effects when drinking alcohol including the development of alcoholism or alcohol addiction.
  • GABRA2 and CHRM2 – These two genes are also associated with alcohol-related conditions, having been regularly linked to alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use disorder occurs when a person continues to consume alcohol uncontrollably despite them being aware of the negative effects it has. Additionally, these two genes have been commonly found in those who suffer from early-onset alcoholism.
  • CUL3, PDE4B, and PTGER3 – All 3 of these genes have been commonly associated with addiction issues related to smoking and drinking. 
  • MAOA, SLC6A4, and COMT – Those who have these genes in their genetic makeup might experience unhealthy reactions to stress, which, when combined with other outside factors such as environmental factors, can increase their chances of addiction.
  • HIST1H2BD – People who have this gene are more likely to develop cocaine dependence than those who do not have this gene. 

Genetics and Substance Abuse: What Other Factors Contribute To Addiction?

While genetics can play a large role in determining the likelihood that someone might end up suffering from addiction, it’s hardly the only factor. In fact, on its own, genetics isn’t the sole determining factor as to whether or not someone will suffer from addiction. There are many other factors that, when combined with those genetic traits can result in a person having an increased chance of developing a substance abuse problem.

A Person’s Environment

The type of environment a person either grew up in or currently lives in can go a long way in shaping and molding that person. Living in an area where there might be a lot of crime or there might be easy access to drugs and alcohol at a young age can influence a person’s behavior and train their brain into thinking that these illicit substances are normal and ok. 

Home Life

The way a child is brought up has a major impact on how they turn out as they age and become an adult. Growing up in a household with experiences such as trauma, neglect, abuse, or domestic violence can harm the brain development of a child and can increase the chances that they develop a substance abuse issue as they get older. In addition, children that grow up in a household where one or more family members are suffering from addiction or using illicit substances in plain view of the child are also more likely to begin using those substances themselves. 

Genetics and Substance Abuse: The Brain’s Development and How it Changes

The reason why people continue to abuse substances even though they know there is a risk of addiction is because of the way it makes them feel. In the beginning, they like the way the substance makes them feel so they continue to use it. Over time though, the brain becomes more and more dependent on the substance or substances and it can cause the overall chemistry of the brain to change. This can lead to the brain developing an addiction to those substances and can cause severe feelings of panic or stress when the substance isn’t taken.

Is Drug Addiction Treatable?

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, the good news is that there are treatment options available. Before treatment can begin though, the first step is to detox. Detoxing rids the body of all harmful substances so that it can begin the healing process. This can be done at a local medical facility, a dedicated detox center, or a treatment center that also offers detox services. Attempting to detox can be incredibly dangerous and even life-threatening.

Once detox has been completed then treatment can begin. Treatment plans are custom-made to fit each person and their individual needs. Most treatment plans focus on various types of therapies including individual therapy, group therapy, and psychotherapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.

At Little Creek Recovery we also offer more unique therapy options such as:

  • Music therapy
  • Identity therapy
  • Recreational therapy
  • Adventure programs

What is the Link Between Genetics and Substance Abuse?

While there is a link between someone’s genetics and substance abuse, it is not the sole contributor. Things like the environment that they grew up in, the household they were raised in, and whether or not their parents also suffered from a substance abuse problem or addiction are all major contributing factors as well. At Little Creek Recovery we know that nobody suffers from addiction by choice. That’s why we offer a variety of treatment options for different types of substances including:

  • Alcohol
  • Prescription drugs
  • Benzos
  • Opioids
  • Heroin
  • Cocaine

Recover at Little Creek Today

If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction and could benefit from treatment, contact us today. We want everyone that comes to see us go on and lead a happy, healthy, and sober life. 

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