Research has shown us that addiction is the product of social, environmental, behavioral, and biological factors. Yet the extent to which addiction can be attributed to one avenue or another is much harder to nail down because while some may become addicted primarily due to environmental factors, others become addicted due to familial influence.
While there are certain ways to decrease your risk of becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs—e.g. avoiding people and places associated with recreational substance abuse—it may pose a bigger problem when the risk is within your own family. So what do you do when you’re biologically or even genetically predisposed to developing an addiction? Is there any hope of overcoming addiction in your family?
Let’s find out…
Addiction & Genetics
Like many other health conditions and afflictions, the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder is increased when there’s a history of addiction in the family line. In fact, there are studies that suggest your genetics can impact how your brain processes and is affected by mood-altering substances like alcohol, illicit drugs, and even pharmaceuticals.
However, while at least half of a person’s susceptibility to addiction is believed to have a genetic basis, there isn’t one single gene that will make someone an addict. The reality is that there are a number of different genetic markers that can appear in different amounts and combinations to increase an individual’s predisposition to becoming addicted to chemical substances.
For example, some people’s bodies are allergic to alcohol, effectively preventing the development of an alcohol problem. On the other hand, some have genes that allow them to process alcohol very efficiently, resulting in a very high tolerance to alcohol that makes addiction more likely.
Addiction & Environment
Addiction is not just about genetics; it is about a mixture of factors, including your environment.
This is particularly relevant in the case of family history because your relatives are likely associated with your home environment; therefore, in the case of addiction in the family, the predisposition to addiction can be both genetic and environmental/social.
Learning Theory of Addiction
According to the learning theory of addiction, people develop substance use disorders by way of social learning. In other words, when you adopt—whether intentionally or unknowingly—the behaviors that you observe from the people around you. This theory goes back to classic conditioning, which is when a pleasurable activity becomes associated with environmental cues; Pavlov’s dog is the most widely known example of this psychological phenomenon.
People can also learn behaviors through operant conditioning where if a substance is used as a reward and associated with something positive, people are more likely to keep using it.
Society and, more specifically, one’s community can certainly factor into the development of addiction. Someone who grows up in a community with lots of free after-school activities, for example, will be less vulnerable to drug addiction. These sorts of activities produce endorphins that make the participants feel happy, making them want to continue engaging in these safer activities and, by extension, discouraging dangerous or maladaptive behaviors.
By contrast, in communities where there are no activities or support for youths, there are often more opportunities for youths to find themselves in situations in which alcohol and/or drugs are accessible.
People learn all sorts of behaviors and emotions in their home environments, whether they’re learning from parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.
When a family member is an addict, others living in the household will inevitably see behaviors associated with substance abuse in the home. Perhaps they’ll start to see drug-seeking behavior as an appropriate response to a particular situation. Or maybe there’s a level of unrest and instability in the home environment, which can lead to addictive behaviors.
How to Ensure That You Don’t Become Addicted
If there are people in your life or, more specifically, in your family who are addicted, you should create an action plan to minimize the likelihood that you will fall prey to addiction.
Be Aware of Your Risk
One of the most important things you can do is just be aware that addiction runs in your family, which puts you at great risk of developing an addiction. Being aware of your risk for addiction gives you opportunities to filter and adjust your choices.
For example, if your friends want to drink until they pass out, you could either decide to have one drink or forgo drinks altogether. When the people closest to you have become addicted to alcohol or drugs, you must be careful with the risks you take with substances.
Change Your Environment
Evaluate the environment that you grew up in. If you feel like your environment could be putting you at risk of addiction, then you should do what you can to change your environment.
Rather than being in an environment where you’re at risk of becoming addicted, you should surround yourself with people who support your self-control as well as your personal growth and development. Focus on pursuing activities that can improve your mental and physical health. You could also consider becoming more involved in your community, whether that’s volunteering, coordinating an event, or something else entirely. The idea is to build an environment that’s most conducive to a productive and sober lifestyle.
Talk to Your Health Care Provider
If you’re at risk due to a family history of addiction, then it’s a good idea to have a talk with your primary care provider. Let him or her know about your family’s history of substance abuse and that you’re concerned about your risk of substance use disorder. With this information, your care provider would make adjustments to current and future treatments that you might receive in a few important ways.
For example, if you ever receive surgery, then your care provider would take your family history into account when prescribing pain medication, being particularly careful with the strength and dosage of the medication while also monitoring your usage of the medication.
Be Honest with Partners & Friends
Being honest with your partners and friends about your family history of addiction can be an important aspect of ensuring that you don’t become addicted to alcohol and drugs.
When your romantic partners and friends are aware of your risk and concerns, they can help ensure that you don’t fall into addiction. They can be mindful of the warning signs of addictive behavior and make accommodations for you to ensure that you avoid addiction.
Build a supportive community around you comprised of people who know you are concerned about your risk of addiction.
Find Mental & Emotional Support at Silicon Beach Behavioral Health
Addiction often goes hand-in-hand with other mental health issues. While we can’t definitively point to a causal relationship, there is a high co-occurrence rate between addiction and mental health issues.
If you are experiencing mental health issues, it’s important that you learn to manage your symptoms with safe, healthy, and productive strategies.
The thing to remember is that addiction in your family doesn’t guarantee that you’ll develop an addiction yourself. Rather, you should simply try to be more self-aware of how you conduct yourself in situations that could lead to alcohol or drug use. When in doubt, enlist your partner, friends, and health care professionals to help you lead a healthy and addiction-free lifestyle.
Still worried about your addiction risk? Or worried about family members who are struggling with addiction? Call our toll-free number to learn how to achieve and maintain a state of wellness.