Addiction and the Nature Vs. Nurture Question

How much of a role does your family play in regards to drug addiction?

Recent studies show the incidence of similar patterns of addictive behavior in children who were raised outside their genetic families. In these instances, the evidence indicates addictive tendencies cross not only the genetics of family, but the habits and lifestyles of adoptive families. For those who believed they were safe from the addictions that plagued their families of adoption, this is bad news.

Your Genes Play a Part

Basically, what is found is addiction is not only a genetic marker, but also a lifestyle training that may be imposed on those not born with a genetic trait for addiction. This is often recognized in treatment of addiction. Those without familial history of addiction can become addicts. Those raised in families where addiction is present can become addicts as well, even if their genetic families appear immune to its devastation.

How Is Addiction Formed?

Unfortunately, there is no pat answer to this question. Some inherit genetic tendencies for addiction; others learn the behaviors and attitudes that may feed addiction. Still others are raised in families without any heritable or behavioral traits and still find themselves addicted. There is no set pattern, nor is there any predictable method for determining whether a child or young adult will develop an addiction

What is recognized are ingredients creating high likelihood for addiction. These can include:

  • genetic makeup predisposing a tendency
  • learned responses to stress and other emotions not allowing for appropriate responses to be utilized
  • trauma not appropriately addressed and processed, especially in children

Because these are stressors, appropriate training for stress management is a key to developing strong ammunition against possible addiction later in life.

People who have learned to shut down emotional responses, rather than processing them, are prone to addiction, as drugs and alcohol often become the methods utilized for escape from stressors. Dependence on this type of relief begins a cycle of dependence and abuse which may become addiction. Because these tendencies are learned from immediate environmental influences, families are the resource most often tapped by young children. This developmental tool may be picked up again and again. Coping strategies are necessary for everyone. If healthy ones are not available, alternate strategies are learned, which may may include escape into addictive types of behaviors that mask uncomfortable symptoms of stress and trauma.

Sadness, anger and anxiety are normal experiences. How they are recognized and dealt with is begins a pattern which may become a permanent escape route. Avoidance techniques for emotional regulation are not the same as healthy responses. The greatest avoidance technique is found in alcohol, drugs, tobacco and other high-risk behaviors. When these become the standard, addiction can certainly follow.


Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions' counselor.

Related Articles

Categories