Addiction can run in the family. It is not uncommon for someone to have a parent, grandparent, uncle, or aunt who struggles with substance use. It is also not unusual for a person who grew up seeing someone in their early life use drugs and alcohol and then does the same. While it is something that can run in the family, it does not have to. A person can change and break the pattern.
Addiction is a chronic, progressive disease of the brain characterized by the compulsive use of addictive substances despite harmful consequences. The path to addiction is unique to each person who develops it. There are so many reasons why people have substance use disorders, but science tells us that one’s genetics and environment can play a significant role in whether they will misuse and abuse substances.
Scientists continue to study how genetic makeup makes some people vulnerable to developing addictions. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, studies of different sets of family members, including identical and fraternal twins as well as siblings and adoptees, suggest that up to 50% of a person’s chances of being addicted to substances, such as nicotine, alcohol, and drugs depends on their genetic makeup.
MedlinePlus writes that a person’s genetic predisposition “results from specific genetic variations that are often inherited from a parent.” However, it also shares that genetic changes may contribute to a disease’s development but do not directly cause it.
“Some people with a predisposing genetic variation will never get the disease while others will, even within the same family,” it writes.
A person’s environment can shape their path early in life and lead them to various outcomes, and this is true for people who grew up in homes where substances were abused. It is widely known that other people’s behavior can affect those around them and influence others to act in the same manner. Someone may even join in on the drinking and drug-using just to fit in and be accepted by family members.
Also, addiction can develop as people in these environments have easy access to addictive substances. If a person is exposed to media and popular culture where alcohol and drug use is glamorized or normalized, then this can also contribute to a decision to do the same later on.
Environmental influences can also prompt adolescents to use alcohol and drugs at a young age. Some substance use begins at even younger ages for some people. Early use can also lead to addiction later in life.
Even if a person grows up in an environment with family members who use addictive substances and does not go on to use them themselves, they could still develop emotional and mental health challenges as a result of living in an environment or being around people who struggle with the disease, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
“Families with alcohol and drug problems usually have high levels of stress and confusion. High-stress family environments are a risk factor for early and dangerous substance use, as well as mental and physical health problems,” it writes.
But many people do follow in a family member’s footsteps and start abusing drugs and alcohol. Some people who misuse substances can trace their habits back to someone in their family who did the same thing, or they may not understand where their addiction comes from.
Either way, they are on a path where they can harm themselves in every way possible, including overdosing on a substance, which can permanently injure them or lead to their death.
If you did grow up in an environment with family members who abused substances, you do not have to repeat the cycle despite the role that genetics and environment can play in addiction.
There are other factors that can affect whether someone develops an addiction, including specific brain characteristics that are unique to a person, which could make them more vulnerable to substance use.
No single factor causes addiction; it can be a combination of factors and reasons. However, if there is a history of substance use in your family, you can use it as a guide and establish boundaries that govern what you will and will not do to repeat the cycle.
Because you may have already experienced the downside of being in an environment where substance use is uncontrolled, you can create safe spaces for yourself and create a set of boundaries that govern where you hang out and who you hang out with.
You can identify what environments are not suitable for you. You may not want to spend time in places where heavy drug or alcohol use is going on, and you may choose to avoid people who engage in it. It is OK to realize that these are triggers for you. You may be susceptible to starting a habit you want to avoid, or you may not want to expose yourself further to unhealthy substance use that can bring on unwanted feelings that you are already battling with.
If you have children, you may want to talk with them about substance use history in the family. You can have these conversations as needed; just ensure they are age-appropriate for your child so that they will understand and grasp what they need to take away from the talk you have with them. Being honest and open about what is happening or has happened can prepare future generations for what’s possible and what could unfold. It is one way to change the pattern of addiction in the family.
Many family members of people who abuse substances find they must embark upon a recovery journey of their own. Addiction is hard on the loved ones of people who are addicted. They, too, have to grieve and heal from the events that happened while their loved one was using and abusing drugs. Addiction destroys relationships that could take years to repair if they are not lost forever. It also makes people fearful, distrustful, anxious, and numb.
If you find that you are having trouble moving forward with your life, you may have suffered more than you realize and need professional help to process what you are feeling. Consider seeing a therapist, counselor, or mental health professional who can guide you through therapies that can help you repair what you need to and restore your peace of mind.
People with addiction in the family experience a range of emotions, including isolation, like no one else understands the struggle it can be to deal with addiction in the family. It is not easy, but know that you are not alone. There are thousands of families who are facing similar challenges. Someone out there understands what you are going through.
Look for virtual or local Al-Anon and Nar-Anon meetings. Both organizations bring people together who are managing living with and loving someone who has a substance use disorder. The gatherings can provide insight, tools, strategies, fellowship, and understanding for people who are also experiencing their own changes as a result of someone else’s addiction.
Overall, it is important to remember that ultimately, we are a product of our choices and decisions. Many people who abuse and become addicted to substances likely did not intend for the outcome they now face, but there is help for everyone affected by addiction who wants it or needs it.
If you or someone you care about is seeking help to overcome substance addiction, The Palm Beach Institute (PBI) welcomes you to speak with us about addiction treatment that is designed to help everyone in the family. We have been helping people recover from addiction since 1970, and 50 years later, we are still providing high-quality addiction care and treatment that can help people leave addiction behind for better days ahead.
Give us a call today or reach out to us online so that we can get started today on helping you or your loved one get the help they need. We will be beside you, guiding you as you work on recovering from addiction.
American Psychiatric Association. (2017 January) What is Addiction? Parekh, R. MD, MPH. from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction
NIDA. (2019, August 5). Genetics and Epigenetics of Addiction DrugFacts. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/genetics-epigenetics-addiction
What does it mean to have a genetic predisposition to a disease?: MedlinePlus Genetics. (2020, September 18. from https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/understanding/mutationsanddisorders/predisposition/
NIDA. (2020, June 3). How effective is drug addiction treatment?. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-effective-drug-addiction-treatment