Did You Inherit Addiction and Will You Pass It to Your Kids?
Think of all the things you may have inherited from your parents, such as your height, hair color, and risk for heart disease. But what about your vulnerability to addiction? Research on families shows a strong connection between your genetic makeup and your risk of developing an addiction. Most experts agree that as much as 50% of your risk for substance abuse disorders or behavioral addictions, such as gambling, depends on your DNA.
A 2012 review of the existing research on twin studies found that heritability for substance use disorders can be even higher—ranging from 40% (for hallucinogens) to 70% (for cocaine). Other studies have found that children of alcoholics and drug abusers are 8 times more likely to develop an addiction compared with kids whose parents didn’t have a substance use disorder.
Genetics aren’t the only way your relatives influence your risk for addiction.
5 Ways Addiction in Your Family Makes You More Susceptible to Trouble
You have a genetic vulnerability.
A household filled with stress.
You are more likely to have experienced lasting stress, because of the challenges in your family. For example, children who grow up with stress or abuse from a parent or relative who has addiction problems are significantly more likely to experience anxiety and depression. And people with anxiety and/or depression are twice as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol compared with the general population, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The effects of epigenetics.
The stress of the addictions in prior generations changed your genes to become more vulnerable to trouble. Stress, poor diets, environmental toxins, and prenatal nutrition in earlier generations changed their genes (known as epigenetics) to be more likely to express trouble.
Modeling bad habits.
If your family members self-medicate with bad habits, you are likely to pick up those same behaviors, which increases your risk of substance use disorders. Plus, when a parent has a substance abuse problem, they are less likely to provide children with healthy meals on a consistent basis. A junk-food diet is linked to fatigue, fuzzy thinking, moodiness, and increased cravings. In addition, if your mother was one of the nearly 5% of women who abuse one or more substances while pregnant, this decreased your brain reserve. That’s the extra cushion of brain function you have to help you deal with whatever stresses come your way. The more brain reserve you have, the more resilient you are. The less reserve you have, the more vulnerable you are to stress and addictions.
Not knowing why you should care.
If your family doesn’t care enough about their own health or about your wellbeing to change their behavior, it can be harder for you to learn to love yourself enough to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Your Genes Are Not Your Destiny
Although it’s becoming clearer that genetics plays a role in addiction, it’s important to understand that your genes are not your destiny. Knowing that a parent, grandparent, or close relative has a problem with substance abuse, or a behavioral addiction is not a death sentence; rather, it should be a wake-up call. It means you need to know your vulnerabilities and get serious about taking care of your brain.
Genes load the gun, but it’s your behavior and environment that pull the trigger. A growing body of evidence shows that our diets and lifestyle habits have the ability to either turn on or turn off the genes that predispose us to problems like addiction.
7 Lifestyle Strategies to Prevent or Overcome Addiction
Eat a brain healthy diet.
Food has an immediate effect on the moment-by-moment functioning of your brain. Ditching a junk-food diet in favor of foods that enhance brain health will boost your willpower, focus, craving control, and judgment.
Kill the addiction ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) that infest your brain.
Addiction isn’t just a brain disorder; it’s also a thinking disorder. Many of the negative things we tell ourselves—like “I have no control”—are lies that keep us locked in our unhealthy habits. Adopt healthy thinking patterns and learn how to eliminate ANTs.
Manage your stress.
Practice stress-relief techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, and hypnosis.
Surround yourself with healthy people.
If your family engages in bad habits that promote addiction, find ways to spend time with others who are committed to leading a healthy life. Studies have shown that those who surround themselves with a support group are far more likely to have success in implementing major changes.
Assess your brain health.
Functional brain imaging with SPECT shows how the brain works. It can reveal areas with too much activity or not enough activity, so you’ll have a better understanding of what you can do to balance brain activity. Brain scans also show if there is evidence of toxicity from substances, such as alcohol or drugs, and this can be a powerful step in overcoming addiction.
Model healthy behavior for your kids.
If you have addiction in your family history, it’s even more important for you to be a good role model for your children. Teach your children from a young age how to eat right, kill the ANTs, and manage stress. In doing so, you will increase their brain reserve and decrease their risk of addiction.
Remember that there is hope.
Based on the world’s largest database of functional brain scans related to behavior, people with addictions tend to have the worst-looking brains. But when these people follow a brain healthy program, they show some of the most dramatic improvements. Even if you have been bad to your brain, you can make it better.
At Amen Clinics, we use brain SPECT imaging as part of a comprehensive evaluation to help our patients see and understand any underlying brain dysfunction. This is often a powerful first step to breaking the chains of addiction. We use an integrated brain-body approach to healing the brain and treating co-occurring mental health problems.
If you want to join the thousands of people who have already enhanced their brain health and overcome their addictions and psychiatric symptoms at Amen Clinics, speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.