Is Addiction Genetic? Understanding Your Risk for a Drug or Alcohol Use Disorder

There is a link between genetics and addiction. In fact, some studies show hereditary factors make up about 50-75% of substance abuse and addiction. Here’s how to know if you’re at risk.

Is Addiction Genetic or Learned?

Kid sitting on the couch looking at alcohol drinking on his parents hand
Kid sitting on the couch looking at alcohol drinking on his parents hand

For a very long time, scientists, academics, and others debated the question of nature vs. nurture. They wanted to determine whether genetics was the cause of mental health problems or whether it was all about what you learned. Today, that question has largely been resolved. The answer is that, in most cases, it is both heredity and learned behaviors. The same is true for drug and alcohol use disorders.

Genetic Components of Addiction

Although there is not one specific gene that determines whether you will become addicted to drugs or alcohol, there are several genes that seem to play a part. Some genes have been linked to alcohol metabolism in a way that could protect against alcohol addiction. Others have been associated with alcohol use disorder. There may be genetic components of a cannabis use disorder, smoking, cocaine addiction, or opioid misuse.

However, despite these insights, there is really no reliable way to discover whether your genes put you at risk. Instead, doctors look at your family history to determine whether you are more likely to become addicted to a substance or not. For example, if your father or even several members of your family have alcohol use disorder, you are more likely to have it as well.

Learning and Environment in Addiction

Generally, put on the nurture side of the debate are both learning and environment. Suppose you grow up in a family in which the adults use drugs or alcohol frequently. In that case, you are not only in an environment where these substances are available to you, but you also learn from your parents’ example. Remember, you can’t have an addiction unless you try the substance.

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Is an Addictive Personality Genetic?

The diagnosis of a personality disorder is a complex task. The known personality disorders include borderline personality, narcissistic personality, avoidant personality, antisocial personality, and a few others. Diagnosing these disorders takes expertise and requires the doctor to evaluate their history, behavior, social patterns, and other elements of personality disorders. However, an addictive personality is not on this list.

The concept of an addictive personality can be somewhat vague. There is no diagnosis of addictive personality in the DSM-5, the manual used by psychiatrists to diagnose mental conditions. Yet, it does seem that people who become addicted to one substance are more likely to develop other addictions.

It could be that it is the genetic component of addiction that leads to the idea of an addictive personality. After all, if a gene affects your chances of becoming addicted to more than one substance, it might appear that you are just a person prone to addictions of all kinds.

However, in addition to the genetic factors, which can overlap for different drugs, it’s also true that the environment for different drugs can be the same. For instance, if you are in an environment where alcohol is present, there may also be other substances there. If you spend a lot of time with friends who use alcohol, they might also use cigarettes or other drugs when you are with them.

Do You Have a Risk for Alcohol Use Disorder?

Quiz am I alcoholic infographic
Quiz am I alcoholic infographic

So, how do you know if you have a risk for alcohol use disorder or other substance use disorders? First, look at your family history. Then, consider your environment. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do members of your family misuse drugs or alcohol?
  • How far back in your family have there been family members who misused drugs or alcohol?
  • Has anyone in your family been told by a doctor that they have a substance use disorder?
  • Do you often spend time with people who are using alcohol or drugs?
  • Have you been with family members when they used?
  • Are drugs and alcohol easy for you to get? Are they available in your home?
  • Do you go places knowing that drugs and alcohol will be used there?

These are just a few of the things that may put you at risk of drug or alcohol use disorders. You can’t change your genetic code, but you do have some control over the environments in which you choose to spend time.

Is My Alcohol or Drug Use Disorder Caused by Genetics?

If you already have an alcohol or drug use disorder, it could be at least partly caused by genetics. By paying attention to or asking members of your family, you may be able to easily discern whether heredity is a factor for you.

Besides the hereditary factors for drug and alcohol addictions, genetic factors for mental illnesses can also be involved. Some mental disorders make people more likely to use drugs or alcohol. Furthermore, many of these conditions have been linked to genes. So, the genetic component of your addiction may go beyond any genetic factors for drug and alcohol use disorders. Yet, besides that, the symptoms of mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, may lead people to use alcohol or drugs in an effort to regain control.

The truth is that while you may have a genetic predisposition to drug or alcohol misuse, there is more to these conditions than genetics. A predisposition means that genetic factors make addiction more likely, not inevitable. Therefore, treatment must address both the hereditary factors and the choices you can make to overcome your addiction.


1. What role do genetics play in addiction?

Genetics can significantly influence the likelihood of developing an addiction. Studies suggest that 40-60% of the risk for addiction is attributed to genetic factors. If you have a family history of addiction, you may be more predisposed to developing a substance use disorder.

2. Can environmental factors affect my genetic risk for addiction?

Yes, environmental factors such as stress, exposure to drugs or alcohol, and peer pressure can interact with genetic predispositions. These factors can either mitigate or exacerbate the genetic risk of developing an addiction.

3. Is it possible to determine my genetic risk for addiction?

Genetic testing can provide some insights, but it is not yet precise enough to predict addiction risk definitively. Researchers are still studying the specific genes involved and how they contribute to addiction. Family history remains one of the most significant indicators of genetic risk.

4. How can I reduce my risk of developing an addiction if I have a genetic predisposition?

To reduce the risk, it is crucial to avoid experimenting with drugs or alcohol, especially if you have a family history of addiction. Engaging in healthy lifestyle choices, seeking support for mental health issues, and building a strong social support network can also help mitigate the risk.

5. Can addiction be treated effectively if it has a genetic component?

Yes, addiction can be treated effectively even if there is a genetic component. Treatment often includes a combination of medication, therapy, and support groups. Personalized treatment plans that consider an individual’s genetic background can enhance the effectiveness of the intervention.


Ridgeview Behavioral Hospital for Drug or Alcohol Use Disorder

More than anything, patients need to know that they will receive the best possible care. It’s important to remember that the care you need today may be different from the care you need tomorrow. There are many types of therapy available at Ridgeview Behavioral Hospital, so reach out if you need assistance in the Middle Point, Ohio area.

Call (419) 949-8590 to speak with one of our treatment specialists and learn more about our programs. Take our 😍 Mental Health Assessment or our 🧐 Addiction Test.

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