Although people have been having problems with drug and alcohol abuse for as long as they have been available, the science of addiction is fairly new. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that scientists really started allocating money and resources towards learning about addiction. Luckily, many different discoveries have helped us understand more about addiction, treating it, and even predicting addiction. As you know, not everyone develops substance dependence, but science can predict who may develop an addiction.
Addiction and Genetics
Have you ever been to a doctor for the first time and they ask if you have a family history of cancer, diabetes, or other illnesses? They do this because there are genetic risk factors associated with these diseases. While this doesn’t mean that everyone in the family will get this illness, it does make the chances higher. They’ve discovered that this is the same for addiction.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence released an article verifying that some people are genetically predisposed to addiction. The research was done on twins as well as adopted children to show the different ways genetics can affect a person’s likelihood of developing an addiction. Through additional studies, it’s been found that there are different genes that increase the chances of a person developing an addiction.
It was found that genetics can be upwards of a 50 percent risk factor for people to develop an addiction. This means that if a person has people who struggled with alcohol or drug dependence in their family, there’s a very high chance of developing an addiction. Aside from genetics, a person’s environment is a very big risk factor when it comes to developing an addiction as well.
Growing up with Parents Suffering from Addiction
The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) states that a child’s environment also puts them at a risk of developing an addiction. Children’s minds taking in everything they hear and see growing up, so it makes sense that children of those suffering from addiction are more likely to develop a problem. For example, having a parent who turns to drugs or alcohol to solve their problems, children grow up to think this is normal or that it is the only solution.
If one or both parents struggle with depression or other forms of mental illness, this can also raise the risk of the child eventually developing an addiction. In 1983, Janet G. Woititz wrote a book titled Adult Children of Alcoholics, which goes into detail about struggles these children have. Even children who don’t develop substance dependence are more likely to grow up with mental and emotional issues that can affect their relationships.
Age Plays a Role in Addiction
People can develop an addiction at any time in their life, but the risk factor increases if substance abuse begins at a younger age. This is due to a variety of different reasons according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The primary reason children are more at risk is because their brain isn’t done developing yet. The prefrontal cortex doesn’t fully develop until a person is in their mid- to late-20s.
The prefrontal cortex is responsible for things like impulse control, logical decision making, self-awareness and more. It helps people begin to learn proper coping habits as well. When a young person turns to substances as a form of self-medicating, their brain will continue to crave drugs. Without learning how to deal with stress, fear, anger and sadness in a healthy way, the brain will always think that drugs or alcohol are the solutions. As the study of addiction continues to be explored, science tells us that there is strong evidence the influences the development of substance abuse.