Addiction runs in families, of this much we are certain. While almost everyone has at least one relative that has been touched by addiction, it seems that people who struggle with addiction themselves can usually name a few addicts in their family, and at least one immediate family member. Because people with substance use disorders often come from families with addicted parents, grandparents, or siblings, people have long assumed that addiction is caused by a genetic predisposition that can be passed down through generations. This is only partially true. As with many other aspects of genetics and disease, there are many factors that influence whether a person will develop an addiction, genetic makeup being only one of them. By understanding what factors combine to create the perfect storm for addiction to manifest, we can begin to work towards ending the legacy of substance abuse that plagues far too many families.
Everyone reacts differently to drugs and alcohol depending on their body’s natural chemistry. Just as some medications work for one person but make another person sick, different substances can create euphoria for one person and an unpleasant feeling for another. In most cases, drugs and alcohol work to stimulate the reward system in the brain so that you receive a rush of endorphins when you use them. Over time, this process creates new neural pathways that encourage you to keep using the substance that gave you that rush, and an addiction begins to take hold. Scientists theorize that about 10% of the population have an especially efficient reward system in their brain, and these people are more likely to experience addictions and to develop them earlier in life.
It is likely that this efficient neural reward system is a genetic trait just like any other trait we inherit from our parents, and therefore if your parent experienced addiction, it might mean that you are more inclined to develop one as well. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. People who do not have this heightened reward system can still develop addiction just by choosing to use substances in excess over an extended period. These people would not carry the genetic predisposition to addiction and therefore would not pass it to their children. Adversely, many people who do have the genetic predisposition will never become addicted because they choose not to ever use drugs or alcohol. While genetics clearly plays a role, it can’t seal your fate or the fate of your loved ones on its own.
If you are a parent who has struggled with addiction, it is likely you have spent a good deal of time and energy worrying about your children’s susceptibility to the disease. For the many of us that were raised by addicted parents, it can feel as if we were doomed by our inheritance, and we are destined to do the same to the next generation. Fortunately, we have a lot more power than we tend to believe when it comes to influencing our children’s future, and preventing the continuance of a familial cycle of addiction. Environment plays a huge role in a person’s susceptibility to addiction, and living with a parent that frequently uses drugs or alcohol is one of the most accurate predictors of future substance abuse. The best choice you can make for your children’s future is to seek professional help and get sober.
If you know you have caused your family pain due to your addiction, you may be wondering if the damage on your children’s future has already been done. While there may be a great deal of healing and making amends that needs to take place, there is also a good chance your relationship with your children and their perception of you is salvageable through recovery. Seeing someone you love successfully beat addiction is one of the most inspiring things you can ever witness, and by committing to sobriety and holding yourself accountable for your recovery, you will prove to your children that they too can overcome any obstacle.
One of the greatest advantages we have over the generations before us when it comes to addiction is our access to information. By educating yourself on the science of addiction and the way it changes your brain, you will not only empower yourself in your battle for sobriety, but also be able to share that information with your children so that they know what to avoid. By explaining to your children that they may be genetically predisposed toward addiction, you can arm them against the inevitably difficult choices they will have to make one day regarding drugs and alcohol. Addiction does not have to be passed down from generation to generation forever. We can end the cycle now by first taking care of ourselves, and then empowering our children to make better choices.
At Burning Tree Ranch, we specialize in long-term care that produces real results, especially for those who have experienced relapse. Here you will find a team of qualified and compassionate professionals, ready to help each client through a customized treatment program that addresses all aspects of addiction, including the identification of co-occurring disorders. We know that the journey towards recovery doesn’t end with the conclusion of an inpatient program, and therefore we provide extensive aftercare programs to best support our clients during their transition into lasting sobriety. We also know that addiction affects the whole family, and therefore loved ones are encouraged to participate in the recovery process and take advantage of all our support resources. For more information, call us today at 512-285-5900.