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January 5, 2012

The Genetics of Addiction

No matter how old you are, how much money you make, or what color your skin is, you can develop an addiction. Everyone, from low-income single moms to middle-class straight-A students. from rock stars like Amy Winehouse, to media personalities like Rush Limbaugh can succumb to addiction. Millions of American will become addicted to a substance or behavior in their lifetime. And while we're all technically at risk, there are certain factors that make some of us more susceptible to addiction than others. Consider it a product of nature and nurture. Genes and environment both play a role in deciding who will develop an addiction-and who will not. Let's start with genetics. If a close family relative, like your mom, dad, sister or grandparent, has a problem with addiction, you are at greater risk, too. But how much greater? Scientists estimate that genes are a critical component of a person's vulnerability to addiction. But that means that there is also a key component of withstanding the potential of addiction that lies within a person's own hands. So even if you have so-called "addiction genes" in your family, you are not destined to become an addict. But you do have to be more careful when it comes to using and abusing substances. A few things that have been shown to help safeguard against future addictive behaviors include: A stable family life and close relationship with one's parents, sit-down family meals, and adequate parental involvement and supervision, can all help to keep kids off the path of addiction. Of course, we can't blame our parents for everything. It's probably no surprise that whom we hang out with can greatly determine whether we'll begin using addictive substances. If our friends get into drugs, alcohol, dangerous dieting or sex, chances are, we will too. Junior high and high school are times of sometimes intense peer pressure; it can feel much easier to go along with the crowd rather than find new friends. Perhaps that's why adolescents are at greater risk of addiction. Another high-risk group are those with psychological conditions like: depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and ADHD, who often turn to drugs, alcohol or other mood-altering activities in order to escape their feelings. Identifying and treating symptoms of these and other psychological conditions early on can help prevent people from self-medicating with illegal substances. Even if none of these risk factors apply, that doesn't mean one is immune to addiction. Certain substances and behaviors, like cocaine and heroin, are more addictive than others. Remember that the only way you can avoid addiction for sure is by not abusing substances or behaviors in the first place.

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Last Updated:
December 20, 2012