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Drug Addiction: Is It Genetic or Environmental?

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Dealing with Drug Addiction

The development of drug addiction is a complex phenomenon that is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors.

Navigation: Is Drug Addiction Genetic or Environmental?, How Do Genetic Factors Influence Addiction?, How Do Environmental Factors Influence Addiction?, Other Risk Factors of Addiction, How Does Treatment Work for Substance Use Disorder, , Rehab Is Your Best Chance


The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as a “chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.”

This complex medical condition is still largely misunderstood, which is why there is still a lot of stigma surrounding it. But in order to help those who are addicted, we need to gain a deeper understanding of addiction and its causes.

Here we will talk about one of the most common questions surrounding addiction: is it caused by genetic or environmental factors? This is still a highly debated topic, as some people think it’s genetic while others believe it is determined by a person’s environment.

Truth is that the answer is not so black and white. In fact, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Addiction is a complicated condition that may be caused by several different factors. No one trait determines someone’s likelihood of developing an addiction. Instead, it is a combination of risk factors.

Here we will discuss the role of a person’s genetic makeup as well as existing environmental risk factors in the development of substance use disorders (SUDs).


Is Drug Addiction Genetic or Environmental?

The development of drug addiction is a complex phenomenon that is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors.

Research has shown that there is a genetic component to drug addiction, meaning that certain “addiction genes” can increase a person’s risk for developing an addiction. However, having a genetic predisposition to addiction does not necessarily mean that a person will become addicted to illicit drugs.

Environmental factors, such as a person’s upbringing, social environment, and stress levels, also play a significant role in the development of drug addiction.

In addition, addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease, which means that it is influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics, environment, and behavior.

While genetic and environmental influences can increase the risk of addiction, behavior, such as drug use and seeking treatment, also plays a critical role in the development of alcohol abuse, psychiatric disorders, and addiction.


How Do Genetic Factors Influence Addiction?

Genetics can indeed play a role in determining an individual’s susceptibility to addiction. Research suggests that certain genes can impact a person’s response to drugs and alcohol, making them more likely to become addicted.

The exact role genetics plays in the development of addiction is still being studied. However, studies have shown that the risk of addiction can be inherited from parents or close family members. Genes can influence the way the brain responds to drugs or alcohol, making some people more susceptible to addiction than others.

For example, genetic variations can affect how the brain processes dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in the reward system. Dopamine is released in response to pleasurable experiences, such as eating or engaging in social activities, and also in response to drug use. Genetic variations that affect dopamine receptors or transporters can alter how dopamine is processed, meaning some people are at greater risk of becoming addicted.

Genetics is said to account for about half of the risk of someone developing this chronic medical condition. Researchers say that drug addiction may be influenced by certain natural variations in proteins within a person’s genetic makeup, which can make them more likely to abuse drugs.

Other genetic factors can also play a role in addiction, including variations in genes that regulate stress, anxiety, and impulsivity. People who inherit certain genetic variants may be more prone to using drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with stress or anxiety.

With this in mind, genetics alone do not determine whether or not someone will become addicted. Environmental factors and lifestyle choices also play a significant role. The interplay between genetics and the environment is complex and can vary from person to person.

How Do Environmental Factors Influence Addiction?

Although having family members who are addicted to drugs can make you more likely to become addicted yourself, it’s not just about genetics. Various environmental factors will also play a role in the development of addiction.

For example, peer pressure is one of the most significant environmental factors that influence addiction, especially for teenagers and young adults. People who surround themselves with individuals who engage in substance abuse are more likely to become addicted to those substances themselves.

Another common environmental factor that has a big impact on the development of drug addiction is stress. People who experience high levels of stress are more likely to turn to substances or behaviors as a way of coping.

Aside from stress, trauma can also contribute to substance abuse. People who have experienced trauma may turn to substances or behaviors as a way of coping with their emotional pain.

When people take drugs to cope with stress, trauma, or co-occurring mental health conditions, this is called self-medicating.

There are also various socioeconomic factors at play here. Poverty and unemployment can also influence addiction. People who are living in poverty or are unemployed may turn to substances as a way of coping with the stress and anxiety of their situation.

Generally speaking, the availability of substances can also influence addiction. If a substance is readily available in a person’s environment, they may be more likely to use it and become addicted to it.

According to the US National Library of Medicine, there are several “addictive agents” that make people more vulnerable to addiction such as: culture, religion, and social policy. 

So while some people may be genetically predisposed to drug and alcohol addiction, it is important to note that there are also environmental factors at play.

Other Risk Factors of Addiction

In conclusion, we can say that people with a family history of addiction and people who grow up in an environment where substance abuse is prevalent are at a higher risk of developing addiction. But addiction is influenced by even more factors than you may think.

For example, people with mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder are also at risk of addiction. These people may self-medicate with alcohol to cope with their symptoms.

People who experience social isolation, lack of social support, and negative peer pressure are more likely to abuse substances and get addicted.

Other factors include early exposure to drugs, traumatic events, easy access to illicit drugs, gender, poverty, lack of education, and poor coping skills.

The more risk factors a person has, the more likely they are to experience addiction. Keep in mind that this does not guarantee a substance use disorder will develop. It only shows how much risk a person is exposed to.

How Does Treatment Work for Substance Use Disorder?

Substance use disorder treatment typically involves a combination of medical and behavioral interventions. The primary goal of treatment is to help individuals stop using drugs or alcohol, manage withdrawal symptoms, and prevent relapse. The following are some of the common types of treatment for substance use disorder:

Detoxification: Detoxification is the process of removing drugs or alcohol from the body. Detoxification may involve medications to manage withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings.

Medications: Medications can be used to manage withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and prevent relapse. Medications can be prescribed for a short period or long-term use.

Behavioral therapy: Behavioral therapy is a type of counseling that helps individuals develop new coping skills and strategies to manage triggers and cravings. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing (MI), and contingency management (CM) are some of the commonly used behavioral therapies for substance use disorder.

Support groups: Support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), can provide peer support and help individuals stay motivated and committed to recovery.

Residential treatment: Residential treatment programs provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals to focus on recovery. Residential treatment may involve a combination of detoxification, medication management, behavioral therapy, and support groups.

Outpatient treatment: Outpatient treatment programs provide flexibility for individuals who cannot attend residential treatment. Outpatient treatment may involve medication management, behavioral therapy, and support groups.

Treatment for substance use disorder is individualized and may involve a combination of the above treatments. Treatment may be provided by a team of healthcare professionals, including doctors, therapists, and counselors.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, look for an addiction treatment facility near you and learn more about your treatment options. No matter the cause of addiction, whether it’s genetic or environmental, people can recover successfully. Get started on the road to long-term sobriety today.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.



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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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