Whether it’s your decidedly adventurous spirit, a seemingly constant chocolate craving or your unique shade of blue-green eyes, it’s no secret that so many of your traits can be traced back directly to your family roots.
Of course, not all genetic markers necessarily work out in someone’s favor. For instance, did you know that more than 43 percent of adults in the United States have been exposed to alcoholism within their family and 18 million children currently live in households with family addiction?1
In an attempt to better understand the link between our genes and the risk of alcoholism, data collected on studies of twins and children of alcoholics has indicated that somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of someone’s likelihood for developing alcohol use disorder can be attributed purely to genetic factors.2 For other substances, including cocaine and nicotine, that rate jumps to somewhere between 60 and 80 percent.
Breaking It Down
While there’s definitely a proven connection between genetic makeup and a family’s susceptibility to developing addiction, it’s not quite that simple. Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a singular gene that exclusively contributes to one’s likelihood of becoming an addict. Everything from socioeconomics to peer pressure to one’s upbringing and individual response to alcohol can also factor in.
Aside from pure genetics, our families play other key roles in whether (or not) someone follows a similar path toward addiction. Researchers have reported that the risk of alcoholism and substance use increases when someone is living in a home where a parent is depressed or facing other mental health issues while abusing alcohol. It’s also likely for someone to fall prey to addiction when both parents abuse alcohol or drugs and there’s aggressive and violent behavior as a result.5
But as sobering as these realities are, there is hope. The children of troubled, alcoholic families don’t have to struggle with future drinking problems. While the risk may be higher, it’s also preventable with the right education and preparation. As the old proverb goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
A World Where History Doesn’t Repeat Itself
Like anything worth pursuing, it’s important to plan ahead long before alcohol and drug use becomes an issue. Consulting a healthcare professional about the best ways to avoid falling into the addictive path family and friends have followed is a great place to start.
It’s also vital to be proactive about not engaging in underage drinking — which is often a precursor to alcoholism — and embracing moderation later in adulthood. Moderate drinking is classified as no more than one drink a day for most women and two drinks a day for most men, according to guidelines established by the US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Health and Human Services.3
When there’s a history of alcoholism in the family, it may be more difficult for someone to drink moderately or even know where that line is for their own mind and body. That’s when participating in a support group and getting input from medical professionals can be particularly helpful. And if you’re concerned about your own biological vulnerability to addiction, abstinence is always the best proactive prevention approach.
Communication Is Key
Having open, honest conversations about drugs and alcohol with children at an early age is another great way to proactively break the cycle of addiction. As the opioid crisis continues to dominate the headlines, it’s important to have age-appropriate conversations that help make children aware of the risks.
According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, children who engage early, and candidly, about the dangers of alcohol and drug use are 50 percent less likely to become addicted themselves.4 That’s proof positive that the cycle of addiction in families can be broken. It won’t be easy, but with effective communication and proactive efforts, a healthy, happy, thriving life is possible for anyone — no matter what has happened in your family history.
By Christa Banister
1 “Frequently Asked Questions.” National Association of Children of Addiction, Accessed March 13, 2018.
2 Khoddam, Rubin. “The Family History of Addiction.” Psychology Today, June 24, 2014.
3 “A Family History of Alcoholism: Are You at Risk?” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Accessed March 13, 2018.
4 Wilcox, Stephen. “Talking With Children.” National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, July 25, 2015.
5 Solis, Jessica M., et al. “Understanding the Diverse Needs of Children Whose Parents Abuse Substances.” Current Drug Abuse Reviews, June 9, 2013.