Is Addiction Genetic?

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Many people – especially those with a history of addiction in their family – are eager to understand the factors that contribute to addiction. Is addiction genetic, then?

Many scientific studies show that genetic predisposition plays a role in the development of addiction. Addiction is clinically described as substance use disorder and characterized by the compulsive use of substances despite adverse outcomes. The presence of a genetic predisposition does not guarantee the onset of addiction, though. Genetics are just one variable among many that can influence a person’s susceptibility to addiction. Read on to learn more about the genetics of addiction and find out how to connect with compassionate and evidence-based treatment.

How Can Addiction Be Genetic?

The question of whether addiction can be hereditary is complex. APA (American Psychological Association) states that genetic factors account for at least 50% of an individual’s susceptibility to drug addiction. That said, there is not one single gene that determines addiction. Rather, researchers have identified numerous genetic markers that contribute to the risk of addiction, both in general and for specific substances. This is an area of active study, as the genetic components of substance use disorder are intricate and involve multiple genes.

Substance use disorder, like many health conditions, is multifaceted and influenced by a combination of genetic variations and other factors.

The unique set of genetic variations each person inherits plays a role in the potential development of substance use disorder. Despite this, possessing genetic variations associated with increased risk does not guarantee that someone will develop an addiction. The actual manifestation of addiction is also influenced by the availability of the substance, frequency of use, and environmental variables.

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Links Between Genetics and Addiction

Research into addiction and genetics has made significant progress by examining the behavior and physiology of animals, especially mice. These studies have illuminated the existence of a reward system within the body, influenced by certain genes, that encourages specific behaviors. This system is remarkably consistent between mice and humans.

Many biological mechanisms and multiple genes have been implicated in the susceptibility to addiction:

  • A gene variant responsible for alcohol metabolism can cause adverse reactions like nausea, facial flushing, headaches, and accelerated heart rate in some people upon alcohol consumption.
  • Mice engineered to overproduce a particular protein exhibit milder withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and certain drugs.
  • A variant of the dopamine receptor gene, frequently observed in individuals with addictions to alcohol, cocaine, and opioids, may alter the brain’s reward system response to these substances.
  • Mice with specific variations of the Per1 and Per2 genes show an increased consumption of alcohol, particularly under stress, a trait that mirrors behavior seen in stressed teenagers with similar genetic variations.
  • Fruit flies lacking a gene essential for brain barrier integrity show increased sensitivity to cocaine.
  • The PSD-95 gene, associated with learning and memory, influences cocaine sensitivity in mice that produce lower levels of the corresponding protein.
  • Variations in the mu opioid receptor gene impact protein production levels, with certain variants more prevalent in those with opioid addictions and others associated with alcohol dependence.
  • Individuals carrying two copies of a certain CHRNA5 gene variant have a doubled risk of developing nicotine addiction.

Treatment for Genetic Predisposition to Addiction

Addressing the genetic predisposition to addiction involves a multi-pronged approach that integrates advancements in genetic research with both traditional and more innovative treatment modalities. Understanding the genetic underpinnings of addiction paves the way for personalized treatment strategies, offering hope for more effective management and recovery. Key components of treating genetic predispositions to addiction include:

  • Genetic counseling and testing: Genetic counseling can provide individuals and families with insights into their risk of addiction based on genetic factors. Testing for specific gene variants associated with addiction risk helps in tailoring prevention and treatment strategies to the individual’s genetic makeup.
  • Personalized medicine: Leveraging genetic information allows for personalized medicine approaches, where treatments are customized based on a person’s genetic profile. This can include selecting medications that are more likely to be effective and have fewer side effects, so improving treatment outcomes.
  • Behavioral therapies: Even with a genetic predisposition, behavior plays a key role in the development and management of addiction. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and other behavioral therapies can help people develop coping strategies to manage cravings and avoid triggers effectively.
  • Environmental and lifestyle changes: A supportive environment and healthy lifestyle choices can mitigate the impact of genetic predispositions. Stress management, exercise, nutrition, and avoidance of high-risk situations are core components of a comprehensive treatment plan.
  • Pharmacotherapy: Certain medications can target the biological mechanisms influenced by genetic factors, such as those affecting the brain’s reward system. Medications like naltrexone for alcohol and opioid dependence, for example, can help reduce cravings and prevent relapse.
  • Support groups and community resources: Engaging with support groups and community resources can provide ongoing support and accountability, highly beneficial for long-term recovery. These resources offer a sense of belonging and shared experiences that can provide accountability and encouragement for anyone recovering from addiction.
  • Monitoring and follow-up: Given the chronic nature of addiction, ongoing monitoring and follow-up can address any relapses and make changes to treatment strategy as needed. Continuous care and adjustments based on individual progress and challenges are central to the effective management of genetic predispositions to addiction.

By combining genetic insights with proven addiction treatment methods, individuals facing a genetic predisposition to addiction have a more robust framework for achieving and maintaining recovery.


Is drug addiction genetic?

Yes, drug addiction can have a genetic component, with research suggesting that genetics account for between 40% and 60% of a person’s vulnerability to addiction. That said, environmental and social factors also play a role in the development of drug addiction.

Is alcohol addiction genetic?

Alcohol addiction has a significant genetic component, with studies indicating that roughly half of someone’s risk profile for alcohol addiction is genetic. Like drug addiction, social and environmental factors also influence this risk.

How can I avoid addiction if it’s genetic?

To reduce the risk of addiction – especially if you have a genetic predisposition – be aware of your family history, avoid substance use, engage in healthy activities, seek supportive relationships, and consider professional support if you’re struggling to manage stress or other risk factors.

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Get Treatment for Drug & Alcohol Addiction at Ohio Recovery Centers

If you or a loved one are impacted by addiction, don’t lose hope. All drug and alcohol addictions are treatable with a personalized blend of evidence-based treatments. We can help you achieve this at Ohio Recovery Centers.

Not everyone needs residential rehab, and not everyone can take a month or more away from their commitments. When you kickstart your recovery at our Cincinnati rehab, you can access outpatient therapy at an appropriate level of intensity, allowing you to pursue your recovery without neglecting your daily commitments.

All Ohio Recovery addiction treatment programs deliver tailored targeted and evidence-based therapies, blending medications, talk therapies, counseling, and holistic therapies.

For immediate assistance tackling drug addiction or alcoholism, call 877-679-2132.

Table of Contents

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn