Horizon Blog

What Does Family History Have to Do With Addiction?

April 28th, 2014

geneticsNot everyone can drink or use drugs without developing dependence, and the amount you drink or consume does not influence whether you become addicted. When a person uses alcohol or drugs, the risk of developing alcoholism or drug dependence is largely influenced by genetics.

Plain and simple, some people’s bodies respond to the effects of alcohol and drugs differently. And the single most reliable indicator of risk for future alcohol and drug problems is family history.

Research has proved that family history of alcoholism or drug addiction is in part genetic. Millions of Americans are living proof that alcoholism and drug addiction run in families.

What is meant by family history?

Usually it means that either or both of an addict’s or alcoholic’s parent have an alcohol or drug problem. The children of addicts are 8 times more likely to develop an addiction.

However, studies have shown that addiction is due 50 percent to genetic predisposition and 50 percent to poor coping skills. If you start out with a low genetic predisposition for addiction, you can still end up with one. The 50% of addiction that is caused by poor coping skills is where you can make a difference. Many people come from addicted families but managed to overcome their family history and avoid becoming addicted.

Can Someone Become an Alcoholic Without a Family History?

Heredity is the major pathway to alcoholism or drug addiction, but not the only one.

For example, a study by the National Institute of Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse found that the age of onset of drinking can predict a tendency toward alcoholism. Children who begin drinking at age 13 have a 47 percent risk of becoming alcoholic during their lifetime. Adolescents who don’t start drinking until they are 17 run about a 25 percent risk of becoming alcoholic sometime in their lifetime.  Those who hold off drinking until they reach 21 have a lifetime risk of 10 percent.

So, the age at which a person starts to drink, independent of any family history of alcoholism, plays a major role in whether that youngster will become alcoholic.  When people start drinking in their early teens, the brain’s normal development has not been completed.  Exposure to alcohol changes the brain in some subtle way and predisposes the teen to alcoholism.

Other non-hereditary conditions that play a role in the development of alcoholism include major life changes, illness and trauma to the brain.

Are you worried about your own habits or about a member of your family? Make a confidential call to Horizon today at 716.831.1800. Or please take advantage of our FREE and confidential online consultation where you can talk to a professional staff member.  We are happy to help you.

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