If you’ve struggled with addiction and have come out clean on the other side, you no doubt know by now that there are many factors that go into whether a person becomes susceptible to addiction or not. One of the major components of addiction probability is genetics. The science behind addiction tells us that addictions can be inherited and that they are often passed down from parent to child via genes. This is important knowledge to have handy if you have a child.
A pressing question then for many parents, whether they are in the throes of addiction or lucidly considering the future amid recovery, is if their child will be an addict too. Those who have grappled with the depths of addiction wouldn’t wish addiction on a snake, let alone their own flesh and blood. Studies confirming the hereditary factors behind addiction make the question all the more burning. However, the answers aren’t always so cut and dry.
Understanding the Genetic Aspect
There’s no way around the facts: an addiction is said to be anywhere from moderately heritable to highly heritable. Substances and behaviors that trigger certain aspects of the pleasure-reward cycle in the brain in a parent might very well do so in the child. Meanwhile, those same substance and behaviors might not have any impact on the pleasure-reward cycle in the brain for another unrelated person. Because of genetic components like these that predispose a child to enjoying and indulging in the same types of substances as well as environmental factors—like the availability of a substance or the frequency with which it is used—a child of an addict is significantly more likely than the child of a non-addict to encounter addiction problems down the road. But likelihood is only one part of the story.
Probability vs. Inevitability
Addiction might be more likely in your child because of your own struggles, but that doesn’t mean that your child will inevitably struggle with addiction. There are different variables that can work to offset the probability of addiction based on genetics. As is always the case with nature vs. nurture topics, the other half of this conversation to be taken into consideration is your child’s environment.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to get a better idea:
- What kind of access does your child have to alcohol and drugs?
- How normalized is alcohol and drug using behavior in your child’s life?
- Do you have friends or relatives who regularly use around your child?
- Does your child have friends whose parents are active users?
- Does your child have friends who are using themselves?
- Does your child consume a good deal of media that references or otherwise depicts alcohol or drug use?
- Is your child supervised in a manner that will decrease the likelihood of alcohol or drug use?
The genetics behind addiction susceptibility are important to understand and work to mitigate, but any child can break any number of odds—especially if his or her environment provides an extra push towards sobriety. Remember to do the best you can as a parent, never blame yourself and talk candidly with your child about alcohol, drugs and addiction while making sure that you remain a guiding and supervising force in your child’s life.