In 1956, the American Medical Association made the first step in labeling addiction to alcohol and drugs a disease, recognizing that addiction and dependency acted upon the human body in ways that are outside of our control. Despite this recognition, the causes of addiction were still not fully understood, which remains true even today. But because of the increasing numbers of people who suffer from substance use disorders, new research over the last two decades has unearthed some clues, some of which lie in your genes.
At LifeStance Health, our team of experienced mental health providers understands better than most how the brain can be hijacked by mental illness, and we work with our patients to find solutions. When it comes to substance use disorders, we know that the condition is a disease of the mind and the body and that some of us are more genetically disposed than others.
In the following, we delve a little further into the role your genes play in your risk for developing a substance use disorder.
It runs in the family
For decades, researchers have understood that conditions like alcoholism and addiction tend to run in families — if your parents were (or are) alcoholics, your odds increase of developing the same disorder. But saying that something “runs in the family” isn’t exactly precise as this could mean that the behavior is learned or that you may be biologically wired for the condition — or a little bit of both.
Because of the undeniable connection between family members, researchers have long sought to understand what the nature of the connection is, and they’ve found that genetic makeup plays a role. In fact, this role is quite large as studies show that up to 50% of a person’s risk for developing a substance use disorder is genetic.
Though you may have heard of the great work that’s been done in isolating the gene mutation that leads to an increased risk of breast cancer or cystic fibrosis, the same can’t be said of substance use disorders — yet.
What scientists have discovered is that a substance use disorder may stem from a complex number of gene interactions that predispose a person to developing the disease. In studies of twins, researchers found that their individual genetic makeup led them to act out earlier in childhood, typically through behavioral issues, which paved the way toward earlier substance misuse.
We’re only beginning to scratch the surface of the link between genes and a substance use disorder, to be sure, but these preliminary findings give us great hope that preventive treatments are not far off.
What the link means to you
Until scientists are able to isolate the exact mutations or interactions that predispose you to a substance use disorder, there’s no testing or genetic counseling that we can offer at this point. But this information is extremely valuable and should help us spot red flags when we sit down to study your family history with substance use.
If we discover that alcoholism or drug addiction tends to run in your family, we know that we should be especially vigilant when treating you for any related condition. And if you’ve already developed a substance use disorder, you may find some solace in the fact that your genes may be partly to blame. Unfortunately, there’s still a fair amount of stigma that surrounds substance use disorders, with many still believing that it was a choice you made. Now you’re better armed with scientific answers.
For our part, we offer comprehensive services that can help you break the chains of a substance use disorder, no matter how the condition developed. To learn more, contact one of our offices in Friendswood, Katy, or Round Rock, Texas.