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09-02 What to do about your family’s addiction genes

What to do about your family's addiction genes

“Many children of addicts live against the grain of that upbringing, swearing off any substances that could be abused,” writes Robert Yagoda in his article on U.S. News & World Report. But is this avoidance a practical measure in the face of a truly heightened risk of addiction or is it an unnecessary reaction?

“That a propensity toward dependency appears to exist within families is beyond dispute,” the article goes on to say. But what is up for question is if the predisposition sets one up for failure or not. Arming oneself with these five insights will answer that question and fortify against addictive genes.

  • Understand risk factors. It’s one thing to know alcoholism, addiction or mental health disorder runs in the family; it can be a matter of life and death to fully understand and interpret what that means personally. Consider Earnest Hemingway’s clan, bedraggled by generations peppered with suicides and seemingly contagious depression.The bad and good news: Epigenetics is the study of how genes are expressed within one’s DNA. Although relatively new, epigenome study so far can trace DNA cues predisposing someone to addiction or behavioral deviations as well as if the sequence has been activated or not. Since the study of these DNA tags, it has been discovered that inherited negative traits are not inevitable; rather, they can be benign due to other influencers such as environment, personal intent and culture.
  • Build a knowledge base. If family history is not known, consider pharmacogenetic testing and epigenetic testing to get an overview of your genetic composition.As mentioned in a previous article discussing pharmacogenetics testing as “a way around the problem” of inadvertently becoming addicted to opioids: “There is no such thing as a blanket treatment. Thus, pharmacogenetics testing is being lauded as a valid approach to identify patients’ predisposition to particular medication. It could alert an individual to detrimental physiological responses to opioids or antidepressants, for example, before any dependency arises or damage is done.”If you are familiar with your background, know your family tree beyond the names and faces. A genogram is a pictograph comprised of behavioral and psychological markers of relatives. Understanding hereditary patterns will build a transparent foundation upon which you can build a preventative fortress.
  • Prevention is key. The obvious and evidence-based solution is to avoid ever experimenting with substances. “Although experimentation at any age can open the door to the chronic compulsion to seek and use illicit substances, someone who tries drugs is more likely to wind up in full-blown addiction if they start young,” U.S. News & World Report warns.
  • Scrutinize behaviors. One can find countless self-assessments online to check if addiction is taking hold of daily life. A humorous illustration of an addictive personality to keep in mind is a taco: if it’s not spilling from one end, it could be from another. It could be you stay away from drugs but become addicted to thrill-seeking behavior or internet gaming. Addictive genes don’t necessarily manifest the same exact way as it did for other family members.
  • Lead by example. As pointed out in a previous article, “Overall, the relationship dynamics and reinforcement from the older child was a strong determinant of the younger child’s deviancy,” as was demonstrated in three studies surrounding sibling drug use. Be cognizant of who you’re modeling and who looks up to your own behaviors.

Sovereign Health in Rancho San Diego helps teens struggling with substance use disorder and mental distress turn the tides on hereditary addictions and psychological issues. Call our 24/7 helpline to learn how we tailor treatment.

About the author

Sovereign Health Staff Writer Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing and editing; writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; radio production; and on-camera reporting. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author at

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