Before we dive into our discussion about genetics, it’s important to remember that addiction is also a function of environment and circumstance. Though DNA does play a role in addiction, a family tree is not solely to blame for one’s abusive tendencies.
In order to fully understand addiction, we have to be honest about its origins. Taking a look at the bigger picture, we find that several factors come together to spark abusive habits — many of which are rooted in underlying mental illness and life-altering circumstances.
Is There an Addiction Gene?
“Addiction genes” provide a fascinating look into a person’s predisposition to develop an addiction. However, it’s not as simple as picking out a specific gene or allele and determining its culpability in a future problem. Scientists look for genetic coding that reveals whether or not a person is more likely to suffer from addictive behavior, and whether or not that person will also suffer greater withdrawal symptoms if they try and quit.
Of course, some people also carry a non-addictive gene, or coding, that makes it harder for their bodies to fall prey to addiction. But even if it was as simple as finding one specific gene, there are still several other factors that come together to form the disease.
Is Addiction Genetic?
It’s true that addiction can run in the family. When assessing how these genes are passed on, researchers study large families that have a history of addiction. Within the families, they examine the DNA of those affected by addiction, as well as those who are not. Side-by-side, the DNA can reveal a great deal of information, where some coding is present on one side and missing on the other.
That Last .01%
Amazingly, DNA strands among human beings are nearly 99.9% the same across all individuals. It’s that last piece that differentiates us. That last .01% is responsible for nearly 3 million differentiating factors that encompass everything from our physical attributes to our vulnerability toward certain diseases.
While some of this information can be read on one single gene, most diseases are read across several genes, and among many variations. This makes it harder for scientists to pinpoint the true nature of susceptibility, as well as when, how, and if the disease will ever materialize.
Addiction is one of those diseases. Even with family history and isolated genetic coding, there are far too many factors and instances in which addiction can make itself known.
A Family Tree in a Forest Fire
Research has proven a complex relationship between predisposition and environment. Even when there is a history of addiction in the family, it takes more than genetics to start an abusive habit.
Sometimes, the family tree is born into a forest fire, where environmental factors usher to fruition a problem that already had insidious roots. In other cases, environmental factors can ignite an addiction, even where no family history is present.
The Future of Science
Is addiction hereditary? Yes. But the solution is not so straightforward.
Though science has enabled researchers to isolate and study certain genes, there is still no way to completely eradicate predisposition to addiction. And even if this was possible, we would be neglecting the many other factors that contribute to the disease.
The best course of action, where addiction is present in the family tree, is abstinence. If you know addiction is a part of your family’s past, avoid situations and circumstances that encourage bad choices. Look for other patterns in your life where addictive behavior might be present. Learn how to curb that behavior into healthier lifestyle choices, and know when to say no.
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