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Drug and Alcohol Addiction – Is it Genetic?

Brandi Marcene
Jul 02, 2021

A frequent question that the masses often ponder upon is whether or not addition is hereditary. The truth is that behind substance abuse stands a certain predisposition of genetics. However, we cannot define this as the primary reason behind the substance abuse. Other factors also equally play a part.

However, even the APA (American Psychological Association) confirms the fact that half of an addict’s susceptibility to drug abuse comes from genetic factors.  Let’s take a closer look at some relevant details.

How Genes Influence Drug Addiction

One of the most striking similarities that drug addiction has with other chronic diseases is the role of heredity. A person can have a tendency to drug abuse if it has been running in his/her family for generations.

This may come as a surprise to many people but even reputable organizations like APA testify to this fact. Scientists have been studying the role of genes forever. They are discovering how genetics play a role in protecting people from substance abuse.

Genetics have a very major impact on how one person becomes an addict, in addition to the environment they grow up in. According to the stats they give us, genes make us more vulnerable to drugs by almost forty to sixty percent.

The NIDA mapped out some sequences of people addicted to drugs and alcohol. Their team of scientists isolated the gene sequences that increase a person’s likelihood of drug addiction. Their primary command to the gene sequences includes producing those proteins that are crucial for our bodily function. 

The performance of those proteins indicates to the scientists how vulnerable or strong an individual is against addiction.

The Duke Breakthrough and the PSD-95 Protein

In 2004, a major breakthrough came in research relating to drug addiction from heredity. The Medical Center of Duke University compiled a team of investigators who singled out a certain protein by the name of PSD-95.

This protein proved its deep link to memory, learn and also drug addiction. The study included a low level of PSD-95 in a group of mice. They proved to take longer in memorizing their way around a maze. The same group of mice also showed higher cocaine sensitivity.

The study concluded that mice with lower PSD-95 levels would be more addicted to cocaine and slower in learning. Those with normal PSD-95 levels were faster learners around the maze and less cocaine addictive.

Learn more about cocaine addiction

Another experienced investigator conducted a study and found evidence that PSD-95 also makes one vulnerable to other substance addiction. This means that anyone with lower PSD-95 level can become addicted to heroin, morphine, alcohol nicotine.

He reached this conclusion on the fact that all the other drugs also produce similar effects to dopamine, which includes feelings of satiation, pleasure and feeling high. The same year also featured another breakthrough in the research on genetic influence on drug addiction.


Nobel Prize winner Paul Greengard and his team discovered the influence of another brain protein. This one is DARPP-32, which can make someone vulnerable to amphetamines, opiates and cocaine.

The same group of researchers found that when they eliminated DARPP-32 from the brains of their group of mice, they no longer showed addiction to abuse. As a conclusion of all these researches, one can evidently figure that genetics have a huge role in drug susceptibility.

Our proteins go through natural variations, which our genes encode. As a result of this, it is likely that we will show a tendency to drug abuse.

Other Contributing Factors

Apart from genetics, we also know that several other factors largely contribute to drug addiction. The NIH, National Institute on Drug Abuse supports the idea of substance abuse as a brain disease.

This means that drug addiction is truly a brain disorder. It involves significant changes in our brain’s reward center, relating to self-control and stress.

Thus, we can safely conclude that other factors can be just as influential as genetics. Let’s take a look at some of those below:

1.     Trauma

According to research, individuals including adults, teens and even children can become vulnerable to substance abuse. This is when they have suffered a traumatic event in life and turn to drugs as a coping mechanism.

If one does not treat trauma correctly, it can reduce an individual’s resilience and strength to cope with life’s dysfunctional situations and challenges. As a result of this, a person can likely self-medicate, usually through drugs, to numb their pain and hurtful memories.

2.     Environment

If children have had an unfortunate, bitter, harmful or harassing childhood experience, they can likely become addicts in future. The harmful situations cause mental and emotional disorders and behavioral problems.

As a result, one can turn to drugs to cope with bitter memories and past and induce a false sense of confidence.

Final Thoughts

Addiction can be a hereditary occurrence but not entirely the result of genes. A lot of other factors contribute to making a person dependent upon drugs. Environmental factors, traumas, behavioral disorders and a lot of other factors can lead to substance use.

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