Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is a complex brain disease that results in the compulsive use of drugs or alcohol, regardless of what the consequences might be. While scientists continue to explore the specific causes of Substance Use Disorder, experts have identified several factors that may influence an individual’s susceptibility for developing SUD.
Scientists have found that genetics represent more than 50% of the overall risk ratio for the tendency toward SUDs for those that have a family history of dependence or addiction. Let’s explore this relationship further to understand and mitigate the risk factors..
What is genetics?
The term “genetics” refers to the area of scientific study that focuses on the study of genes and heredity. This pertains to genes, which are segments of our DNA that are passed down from parents to children over the generations.
In the study of SUDs, genetics has played a significant role in unraveling the mystery of why some individuals are able to consume substances without becoming addicted, where others are not. As of now, scientists haven’t identified an “addiction gene.” However, they have found that certain genetic factors can influence behaviors and tendencies that may predispose an individual towards substance dependence or addiction.
How do genetics relate to substance use disorder?
While true that each individual possesses a unique DNA fingerprint, there are some genetic traits that may be common among people who ultimately develop a SUD in their lifetime. Again, this is not so much referring to a specific gene, but rather a series of genetic traits like:
- Predisposition to SUD: Someone with a parent or grandparent that struggled with SUD may be predisposed to developing one, too.
- Susceptibility to substance misuse: Being exposed to alcohol or drug abuse as a child may make them more susceptible to developing a problem with a substance themselves. This risk increases when other environmental factors are also present.
- D2 receptor: There is evidence, based on brain imaging tests, that individuals with fewer D2 dopamine receptors are more likely to develop alcohol use disorder, as well as an increased risk for cocaine or heroin addiction.
Other risk factors for substance use disorder
In addition to the primary role that family history or genetic traits play in predicting whether someone develops a SUD, there are other risk factors:
- Environmental: Several environmental factors can influence the probability of acquiring a SUD. These include poverty, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, divorce, domestic violence, and other negative life experiences.
- Mental health: An individual battling a mental health disorder may begin self-medicating with a substance. Additionally, people who deal with chronic high stress levels may also use substances in an attempt to relax.
- Personality traits: Someone with an impulsive, risk-seeking personality may be more prone to experimenting with substances, as well as those with poorly developed coping skills or low resilience levels.
- Age of exposure: Studies have shown that the earlier a child experiments with alcohol or drugs, the higher the risk of developing a SUD in adulthood.
While genetics does play a significant part for potentially acquiring a SUD, it is important to be aware of all the risk factors that might be involved.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call 866-313-6307.