Is Drug Addiction Hereditary?

Research has Been Done

Despite several decades of research related to the assorted causes of drug addiction, experts continue to disagree on whether the basis for this issue lies in the realm of nature or nurture. Longitudinal studies prove that addiction tends to run in families, but it this actually due to genetics, or simply a result of bad habits being passed from one generation to the next? A clear answer to this persisting question remains elusive, but recent research may help to clue us in on this continued chicken or egg theory.

Twin And Adoption Studies11

In the past, a combination of twin and adoption studies have often been used to delve further into the relationship between genetics and alcoholism. These types of studies are now being expanded to include other type of drug addictions. Because identical twins possess the exact same genes, it is assumed that, given an entirely hereditary basis for drug addiction, either both or neither members of a set of identical twins would fall prey to addiction.

Thus far, the results of existing twin studies have shown that, when one member of a set of twins winds up with a drug addiction, the other is far more likely to also contract this problem. However, there is not a one hundred percent correlation, which suggests that, while genetics are influential, the cause of addiction cannot be entirely hereditary.

Genome Wide Association Studies

The National Institute on Drug Abuse points to recent genome wide association studies, or GWAS, as evidence that genetics play a major role in the development of addiction. These studies are designed to identify extremely subtle differences in DNA structure that may account for a greater risk of addiction in certain individuals. Most recently, a 2012 GWAS funded by identified a gene already associated with several psychiatric traits to be strongly correlated with a positive response to amphetamines in certain individuals. Further studies are expected to identify still more genes associated with drug addiction and may in the future help geneticists to identify at-risk individuals and target them with a variety of preventative measures.

Child Abuse And Trauma

Statistics related to child abuse and drug addiction suggest that there is more to addiction than simply genetics. If drug addiction was solely a hereditary problem, rates of substance abuse would not be significantly higher in children that had experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse. As it stands, regardless of family history, children experiencing such forms of abuse are far more likely to also experience addiction later in life than those fortunate enough to avoid abuse in childhood.

Environment As A Response To Genetics

Experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse maintain that the cliche should not be “nature versus nurture,” but instead, “nature and nurture.” These researchers feel that genetics may be responsible in determining how an individual responses to certain environmental factors that are capable of serving as addiction triggers. This may be why two different people can be placed in the same environment, but only one will leave with an addiction. And it also may explain why members of a set of identical twins may have experience different outcomes related to addiction depending on where and with whom they are raised.

Unfortunately, there is no clear answer when it comes to the causes of drug addiction. The origin of this problem is likely some combination of nature and nurture, given the fact that it is entirely possible for someone with a strong family history of addiction to avoid the issues altogether — just as it is also possible for an individual to be the first member in his or her family to succumb to drug abuse. Because both genetics and environment play into the development of drug addiction, the best solution is to identify individuals that may be at risk for addiction and then ensure that their environments are as devoid of addiction triggers as possible. Although this approach may not ensure that drug abuse will be wiped out, it very well could reduce occurrence rates in the future.


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