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Intergenerational Addiction

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Whether you have seen addiction across generations in your family or not, intergenerational addiction is real.

Addiction occurs when you cannot control your urges to use a drug or alcohol.

Whether that is physical or psychological, either way, addiction has its hold.

There has been research performed that has found that genetics may factor into 40-70 percent of your risk for addiction.

This also means that several genes are thought to be linked to abuse, but not very many have been identified and confirmed.

The main purpose of understanding intergenerational addiction is to try and either prevent it from happening or to understand your addiction.

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Is Addiction Hereditary?

There have been many studies that have discovered interesting hereditary information in regards to adopted children, twins, and siblings. These studies determined how much genes contribute to addiction. It was found that about half the chance of developing an addiction has to do with genes.


There are two genes that control how alcohol is metabolized, which means that this includes whether or not you get a bad hangover, but also if you have bad symptoms such as nausea or dizziness. If you do not have the gene for these terrible symptoms, then you are less likely to develop an addiction, as compared to someone who does not get hangovers. It was also found that these genes contribute to how much you will consume, and if you are at risk for certain diseases.

Your Brain

Everyone has a different brain, and every person’s brain reacts differently to different chemicals. If three different people take the same drug, they will each have different effects, and one person may even have no effect. This is due to the brain and genes.

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Genes and Addiction

Genes and addiction are highly related. Although we do not fully understand how addiction and genes interact, we do know that isolating genes may help. This is because almost 99% of your data is the same. That one percent that is different, is responsible for your hair color, eye color, and also some diseases. This 1% may also hold the clue to why some people are more susceptible to addiction.

Nature vs Nurture

Nature vs nurture is the question of if you are influenced solely by genes, or solely by your environment. Many people believe that it is not one or the other, but both nature and nurture. For example, even if a child is told their entire life not to do drugs, they still might end up becoming addicted to drugs because they simply have the gene that makes them predisposed to doing drugs.

Is Addiction a Disease?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, for a long time addiction was considered a problem that you can fix. Over time, we have learned that addiction is not a lack of willpower, but rather a chronic medical condition.

We have also learned after many years that the interactions among brain circuits as well as the environment in one’s life and experiences are all factors. Combine that with genetics, and you have a recipe for an addictive disaster.

Easing The Stigma

When you treat addiction as a disease, you reduce the stigma attached to it. This can eventually lead to successful prevention efforts, because at the first sign of addiction, rehab will be sought out, rather than waiting until it becomes too difficult to manage.

The Science Behind it

There is a science that backs this as well. Addiction is shown to be a chronic illness especially in people with the gene because some people are able to stop drinking, smoking, or doing drugs after one try, while others are simply not. Some people cannot stop using substances because the first time sparks something in their brain.

The Effects of Trauma on Addiction

Research shows that traumatized children and adolescents have a greater risk of developing both drug or alcohol abuse. This is because of dysregulation, which is a regulation impairment. It can occur in a psychological, metabolic, or physiological process. This trauma and substance abuse can also lead to violent behavior, PTSD, other mental health issues, and even suicide.

There are many studies that signify that there is a correlation between trauma and addiction. Traumatic events might include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Abandonment or neglect
  • Stressors experienced in utero
  • Medical stressors
  • Grief
  • Domestic violence
  • Community violence
  • Disasters
  • Terrorism, war, or refugee displacement

Because early life trauma directly impacts brain development, it can be difficult to face challenges in the future. Especially if a child is raised in a dysfunctional environment, along with a predisposition to drug or alcohol abuse, it can make it a lot more difficult to avoid addiction in the future.

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Young Brain Development

When the brain is developing, it will go through critical phases from birth to 22 years of age. Young people also have trouble making rational decisions, specifically because the prefrontal cortex has not fully developed yet. This part of the brain regulates impulse control and decision making and is not fully formed until the age of 25. This means that young people are at a higher risk for addiction.

Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis occurs when you struggle with mental illness at the same time as a substance use disorder. This means that if you are at risk for inheriting mental illness, or addiction, you will need to work twice as hard to avoid having a dual diagnosis. Similar to hereditary substance use disorders, some hereditary mental health disorders include:

  • Autism
  • ADHD
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia

It is good to note that just because someone in your family has one of these disorders, it does not mean that you will also have it.

Breaking the Cycle of Addiction

If there is a history of addiction in your family, the best thing to do is talk about it openly. Here are a few examples:

  • Have conversations with children regardless of age. Drugs and alcohol should be known to be dangerous, but not so taboo that you cannot have a conversation about it.
  • Don’t keep secrets. Each person in the family deserves to know about the history of drug or alcohol abuse in the family. This way, if they do notice themselves leaning towards addiction, they will be able to understand why and seek help immediately. In addition to notifying regarding addiction, mental health or physical health issues should also be identified.
  • Be honest about your own struggles with alcohol or drugs. Children might mimic bad behavior, but they can also mimic your strong behavior. Showing honesty, and showing that you have pushed through difficult times is a great example.

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Is It Time to Beat Your Addiction?

Statistics show that 20 million Americans have some form of a substance use disorder, yet only 10 percent of those 20 million people receive treatment.

By being able to recognize generational substance abuse, the new generation may be able to seek help before it is too late.

Whether you or someone that you love is struggling with an addiction, at Resurgence Behavioral Health we can help.

Contact us to learn about our free insurance verification for treatment, and to learn about the programs we offer.

There is no day but today to get started on your path to recovery.

Alexa Iocco

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