Real Teens Ask: Is Addiction Hereditary?

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Does someone in your family abuse drugs? Learn more about how DNA can influence a person’s chances of becoming addicted to drugs in this updated post from 2011.

Every year, NIDA’s top scientists answer questions from teens at schools across the country during Drug Facts Chat Day. In 2010, “I AM MIKE” from Jefferson Township High School in Trenton, New Jersey asked:

"Are you more likely to do drugs if someone in your family does?"

The short answer is Yes.

The risk for developing drug and alcohol problems is higher in children whose parents abuse alcohol or drugs—but it is NOT a guarantee that those children will either use drugs or become addicted. In fact, most children of parents who abuse alcohol or drugs do not develop alcoholism or addiction themselves.

But, research shows that children with parents who abuse alcohol or drugs are more likely to try these substances and develop alcoholism or drug addiction.

Why? Because children whose parents abuse alcohol and drugs:

  1. Are more likely to have behavioral problems, which increase the risk for trying alcohol or drugs.
  2. Have more opportunities to try these substances.

Children may inherit a genetic predisposition (or greater likelihood) for addiction—having an “addictive personality,” so to speak. But, again most children of parents who abuse alcohol or drugs do not develop alcoholism or addiction themselves.

This means that even if you inherited a risk for addiction, it does not mean that it is your destiny to become addicted to drugs. To avoid that risk entirely, it’s best not to start using, and if you’ve already tried drugs or alcohol, the sooner you stop or get help, the better.

Help Is Out There

When someone has a drug problem, it's not always easy to know what to do. If someone you know is using drugs, encourage him or her to talk to a parent, school guidance counselor, or other trusted adult. Confidential resources are out there, like the Treatment Referral Helpline (1-800-662-HELP) offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The Helpline refers callers to treatment facilities, support groups, and other local organizations. You can also locate substance abuse treatment centers in your state.

Want to learn more? Read more about genes and addiction. And check out the blog posts “Say What? Epigenetics” and “What Increases the Risk of Having a Drug Problem? (Part 1).”

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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