The Role Genetics Play

19 Jul, 2020
The Role Genetics Play

The nature-versus-nurture debate has been discussed for years. But, we are now comfortable saying that it isn’t or but and. Nature and nurture play a role in someone developing an addiction. It’s difficult to quantify exactly how much genetics plays into addiction, but we know they have a substantial role. This article will feature the role genetics play in addiction, but also what other things occur that can impact your addiction, too. Remember, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. It’s usually both.


A 1999 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry reported that alcohol use disorders were more commonly found in both members of identical twins than in both members of fraternal twins. (Identical twins share the same DNA, while fraternal twins do not.) This study also found that between 48% and 58% of an adult male’s risk of alcohol use disorder is dependent upon genetics. The rest, they concluded, came down to environmental factors. This doesn’t mean that there’s a single gene that will determine whether or not someone will develop an addiction. There are many, thousands, of genes and gene variants that contribute to someone developing an addiction.

There are, however, a handful of genes that have been found to have large effects on substance use disorder, in particular. For example, some people have a certain gene variant that does not allow the body to break down alcohol normally. For these people, a chemical builds up quickly and they have symptoms that come about that are not pleasing. Because we don’t like to feel poorly, the people with this gene variant tend to not drink alcohol because they feel sick if they do. Thus, the people with this gene variant are at a lower risk than others to develop an alcohol use disorder.

Another way that nature plays a role in developing an addiction is by two different pathways. The first pathway is the externalizing pathway. Individuals who are more wired to have this pathway engage in behaviors that may be impulsive or risky. Thus, they seek out rewards without first stopping to think of the consequences that their actions have.

They are usually more likely to try addictive substances and have problems with them than others who are not hardwired on this pathway. The other pathway is the internalizing pathway. Individuals who are more wired to have this pathway usually develop depression and anxiety at higher rates because they are wired differently to cope with fear and negative emotions. They, too, are at a higher risk for substances use because they may cope with their feelings by using substances.

It’s important to note, though, that these pathways generally exist in everyone. It’s where you fall along these pathways that help to determine your risk. For example, if you are higher on both pathways, you will be more susceptible to developing a substance use problem than individuals who are lower on both pathways. Of course, just because you are high-risk doesn’t mean you will develop a disorder. That’s where the nurture comes in.


It can be a complicated picture once you take into account nature along with the nurture. It’s imperative, however, that we look at both sides. One part of nurture that plays a huge role in substance use disorders forming is timing. For example, adolescents are at high risk of trying and developing a substance use disorder because their brains are not matured yet. The brain’s reward system is highly developed, but the systems that help you think through consequences for your actions are not anywhere near developed yet. This makes young people’s brains hardwired for trouble. Thus, their environment is extremely crucial.

The environment is a crucial role in the development of an addiction for young people. The more exposed you are to substances as a child and adult, the more likely you are to be influenced by them later on. Furthermore, even if you have a gene variant that could predispose you to addiction, your environment can either bring that trait out or keep it hidden. Your experiences play a huge role.

If you are around substances during this growth period where your brain is not developed, you are more likely to engage than someone who does not have the same opportunity and exposure to substances at this age. Combine that with the fact that you may have a gene variant that can predispose you to addiction. It’s the perfect storm.

In understanding the intricate tapestry of addiction, it becomes evident that mental health plays a crucial role in shaping individual vulnerabilities. This brings us to the nexus between this exploration of genetics in addiction and another insightful piece titled “Acute Stress Disorder vs PTSD: Why You Need to Know the Difference.” The connection lies in the shared terrain of mental health, where the interplay of nature and nurture extends beyond addiction alone. Both articles converge on the understanding that our genetic makeup, coupled with environmental influences, not only impacts the development of addiction but also plays a pivotal role in shaping our response to traumatic stress.

While this article delves into the genetic nuances of addiction, the exploration of acute stress disorder (ASD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sheds light on how our genetic predispositions and life experiences can manifest in response to trauma. The parallels between these discussions underscore the interconnectedness of mental health issues. By recognizing the nuanced interplay of nature and nurture in addiction and understanding the distinctions between ASD and PTSD, individuals gain a comprehensive perspective on the factors influencing their mental health journey. Together, these articles offer valuable insights into the complex landscape of human experience, encouraging a more informed and compassionate approach to both addiction and trauma-related disorders.

Sober Life is here to help you in your recovery journey. Substance use isn’t something to play around with. We know it is serious. This is why we not only offer programs for adults who need help, but also for adolescents who are struggling with substance use. We know that they are very susceptible to trying substances and getting hooked. This is why we offer a program for them. We are serious about substance use recovery. Call our trained and experienced staff today to discuss treatment options for you or your loved ones. We can’t wait to get you the help you need and deserve. You can reach us at 1-619-542-9542. We can’t wait to speak with you! Call us now, you won’t be disappointed in what we have to offer!

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