Addiction In The Family: What Are Your Child’s Chances?


It seems that everyone’s family has a member who suffers/suffered from alcohol/drug abuse:  Uncle Ralph who drinks too much, Nana who’s hooked on pain pills because of her back pain, and cousin Abby who swigs the cooking sherry while frying.

Nature vs. Nurture

Is addictive behavior learned or is it biologically mapped in your DNA?  And if you know whom in your family is addicted, will this knowledge stop you from drinking, drugging if it’s already in your genetic makeup?

How big a part does epigenetics play in addiction?  Does the stress of additions in prior generations change your genes to become more vulnerable to drug dependence? (when the term “abuse” is used such as alcohol abuse, drug abuse, describes the less severe or early stage of Substance Use Disorder.  When the term addiction or dependence is used such as alcohol addiction or drug addiction, it denotes a later stage of Substance Use Disorder).

What Mice Can Tell Us About Addiction

Research into the role of genes in drug addiction has shown that natural variations in proteins encoded by a person’s genes can lead to differences in how vulnerable that person is to drugs of abuse.  PSD-95, a specific protein, has a relationship to drug addiction and to learning and memory.

Mice that had low levels of PSD-95 took longer to learn their way around a maze and also were more sensitive to cocaine.  If they had normal amounts of PSD-95 were less likely to learn their way around a maze and less likely to become addicted to cocaine.

All drugs of abuse (cocaine, opiates and amphetamines) work through a brain protein known as DARPP-32, a go-between in actions of neurotransmitters (chemical brain messengers) in all parts of the brain.  When DARPP-32 was removed from the brains of mice, the mice no longer responded to drugs of abuse.

The Odds of Inheriting Addiction

Although there is no particular gene has been identified as an “addiction” gene, individuals who suffer from addiction tend to have children who also suffer from addiction at much higher rates.  Here are some statistics:

  • Rates of addictions are 25% higher than children of non-addicts.
  • Children of alcohol and drug abusers are 8 times more likely to develop an addiction.
  • Genes also account for 60% of tendency to become addicted and 54% of one’s ability to quit.


Learned Behavior

The most common roots of addiction are chronic stress, a history of trauma, mental illness, and a history of addiction within the family, according to the American Psychological Association (

Children who grow up with stress or abuse from relatives or parents who have addiction problems are significantly more likely to experience anxiety and depression and consequently are twice as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Genes May Loom Large, but Don’t Caste Your Fate

Although your genes may make you more susceptible to drug dependence, it doesn’t mean you can’t be sober.  Here are some suggestions for combating the odds of being a drug abuser:

  • Know your vulnerabilities. Find out at family gatherings who has a history of addiction, diabetes, heart problems, etc. If nothing else, you’ll know what to look for in your own body and be able to fill out those time-consuming forms re: medical history of your relatives at the doctor’s office.
  • Eat a brain-healthy diet. It will ward off Alzheimer’s too.  Plenty of leafy green vegetables, less red meat, plenty of plant-based food.
  • Stay positive by being around upbeat people. Negative thoughts and negative people will lead to depression and anxiety.
  • Find a sport you like and that you will be religious about doing.  You don’t have to go to an expensive gym.  It’s a simple as putting two feet in front of one another and walking in nature.
  • As a parent, model good behavior. “Monkey see, monkey do.”  If you’re a woman, it’s recommended that you do not have more than two drinks a night.  If your child is underage, hide the liquor and be sure when your child entertains friends that you are present.
  • If your child shows signs of drug abuse ( see my past blog about signs), suggest a support group. It doesn’t have to be the traditional AA or Narconon or other “higher power” ones.  Look into Smart Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training)  a newer science-based 4 point-program.
Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson is an award-winning freelance writer and journalist specializing in parenting. Currently, she is targeting her writing about recovery to parents whose children have substance abuse disorders.


  1. Gwendoline Harris on June 26, 2021 at 11:15 am

    Thank you as always wes !!! We stay healthy

  2. Valarie Kinkade on June 27, 2021 at 9:33 am

    Great information. Always good and practical basics. Thanks Wes.

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