When Addiction Runs in Your Family

Are you concerned about a pattern of addiction that runs in your family? Perhaps it’s a history of alcoholism that has extended from a grandparent to a parent to a sibling. Or you may have several relatives in your extended family — an uncle, an aunt, several cousins — who have struggled with drug abuse. What do these multiple addictions in your family mean for you? Are you destined to have substance abuse problem as well?

If your family history is causing concern about your risk for addiction, educate yourself about genetic and environmental factors that could have an impact. If you are showing signs of addiction, knowing when and how to seek help is the key to helping you stay clean and sober.

Genetic Risks of Addiction

Research confirms a genetic component related to alcohol and drug abuse. Researchers from Rutgers have found that genetic factors account for approximately 50% of the variation in alcohol addiction, and for other drug addictions, this genetic influence rises to as much as 70%. Lending credence to the genetic argument, a major study showed that adopted children are at twice the risk of abusing drugs if their biological parents abused drugs as well.

The encouraging news is that genetics don’t always predetermine an individual’s fate. Epigenetic research, which focuses on how gene expression is affected by environmental and behavioral factors without altering the DNA sequence, shows that 20%-50% of shared genetic elements among twins influence the development of addiction. So, that may mean that one twin may be predisposed to developing an addiction while the other twin is not. Given this result, it’s important to look beyond genetics to consider the environmental factors related to addiction.

Environmental Risks of Addiction

Studies show that environmental factors, either in combination with or separately from genetics, can also lead to addiction. The aforementioned study of adopted children reveal that they are at even higher risk if their adoptive parents or other family members have substance abuse issues or if they are exposed to family turmoil or other environmental disruptions.

Children whose parents have addictions are particularly vulnerable to potential misuse of alcohol or drugs. The parents may be lax in their supervision, making it easier for children to gain access to these substances and experiment with them at an early age.

Even in families where addictions are not present, conflict in the home environment can fuel an addiction. Children who grow up in homes where there is domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse, or other traumatic events are more likely to experience stress, anxiety, and depression that can trigger the use of alcohol or drugs.

When to Seek Help

The evidence linking genetic and environmental factors to addiction is likely worrisome to those who have these factors in their background. If you’re concerned about developing an addiction to alcohol because of your family history, be mindful of your behavior when you drink.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have trouble drinking in moderation, stopping after one or two drinks?
  • Do you ever binge drink, defined as a pattern of drinking in which men drink five or more drinks in two hours and women drink four or more drinks within that time span?
  • Do you find yourself craving alcohol?
  • Is your tolerance for alcohol growing, meaning you are drinking more and more to get high?
  • Do you experience withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, shakiness, or anxiety when you attempt to stop drinking?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may have a drinking problem. Talk to a health care professional about your concerns and ask for their advice on how to curb or stop your drinking. If the problem persists, contact a treatment center to explore your options for overcoming your misuse of alcohol.

Similarly, if you are worried about developing an addiction to prescription medication, tell your physician about your concerns. The doctor can avoid prescribing drugs such as prescription opioids that are associated with potential addictions. If you are already using these drugs and perceive that you may be developing a problem, let your physician know immediately so you can seek intervention.

If you are using prescription drugs illegally or engage in the use of street drugs, you are already treading in dangerous territory that could be exacerbated by your family history of addiction. Engaging in drug-seeking behavior may indicate you already have an addiction that is putting you at risk both legally and lethally. Seek help by reaching out to a treatment center for options if you cannot stop this behavior on your own.

Beachside Rehab offers effective options those struggling with alcohol or drug addiction. Contact our trained admissions counselors at 866-349-1770 to discuss how we can help.


Rutgers University, “Rutger Researchers Delve Deep Into the Genetics of Addiction,” https://www.rutgers.edu/news/rutgers-researchers-delve-deep-genetics-addiction, accessed January 24, 2024

Partnership to End Drug Addiction, “Adopted Children Have Twice the Risk of Abusing Drugs if Biological Parents Also Did,” https://drugfree.org/drug-and-alcohol-news/adopted-children-have-twice-the-risk-of-abusing-drugs-if-biological-parents-also-did/, accessed January 24, 2024

Pharmacogenomics, “Epigenetics of drug abuse: Predisposition or response,” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3463407/, accessed January 24, 2024

Depress Anxiety, “Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population,” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3051362/, accessed January 24, 2024

Photo by Kylo on Unsplash