Can A Parent's Addiction Be Passed down To Their Children?

Research studies have consistently shown that substance use disorders tend to run through families. While looking for answers to the "can a parent's addiction be passed down to their children?", you should keep in mind that most of the people who have parents who once struggled with this condition often end up having similar addiction problems later on in their lives.

However, the predisposition to addiction often involves a complex interaction of genetic and environmental factors. To this end, there are many things that come into play in determining your risk of developing a substance use disorder. Read on to find out more:

Understanding Addiction in Families

Substance abuse and addiction can be passed down from parents to their children through the genes. However, there are several ways to explore this issue - including twin, adoption, and familial studies.

From family studies, it is clear that there are high rates at which substance use disorders occur within members of any given family. Although these studies provide estimates of how addiction can occur within a family setting, they do not always account for the role that the environment plays in the development of these disorders.

Although there are genetic influences at play, it is also important to remember that many other factors can increase your risk of developing a substance use disorder. These factors include:

  • Being exposed to addictive substances and addictive behaviors from a young age
  • Growing up with addicted parents
  • Shared familial beliefs regarding substance use and addiction

All of these factors will also play a role in shaping your inclination towards drug and alcohol use later on in your life.

There have also been genetic studies that have tried to examine the relationship between addicted parents and their children's susceptibility to substance use disorders. These studies often review the factors that are linked to the genetic transmission of these disorders.

Studies have been conducted on adopted children as well as on twins. In general, most of these studies have come up with results showing that the rates of the heritability of addiction often range from 0.39 (for hallucinogenic substances) to about 0.72 for cocaine.

A recent study also tried to explore the families of twins where addiction was at play. This study showed that when substance use was initiated at an early age, it ended up contributing to the development of addiction in the affected children. However, the study also concluded that this development was largely predicted by factors linked to social and family influences.

Another study showed that having a first degree relative - such as a child, parent, or sibling - with a history of substance abuse and addiction would mean that you have anywhere from 4 to 8 times as high a likelihood as another person without such a relative to develop similar drug and alcohol related problems.

Genetics and Addiction

From many research studies, it is clear that genetics sometimes contributes to the risk of addiction. Often, genes increase the vulnerability of these substance related problems in various ways.

For instance, genetic mutations can cause alterations in the function and structure of the brain. These mutations might play a role in the ways in which individuals respond when they are exposed to addictive substances.

The ALDH2 (aldehyde dehydrogenase) gene is also known as a protective factor for the development of alcohol abuse and dependence. This gene affects the way the body breaks down alcohol.

Apart from this gene, you might be genetically likely to display issues with executive dysfunction, poor emotional regulation, impulsivity, and other temperamental characteristics. If this is the case, there is a high risk that you may have a high risk of abusing drugs and drinking alcohol.

Although it is has been proposed that there are genes that could contribute to the development of addiction - which also includes interactions between multiple genes - it is still uncertain where there is a true genotype of substance use disorder. This is because of the complex environmental and personality factors that also contribute to the development of these disorders.

Temperamental and Psychiatric Factors for Addiction

While trying to answer the "can a parent's addiction be passed down to their children?" question, it is also important to consider the temperamental and psychiatric factors for substance abuse and addiction.

Studies have estimated that over 50 percent of the people who struggle with substance use disorders also meet the basic criteria for the diagnosis of certain psychiatric disorders - including anxiety and mood disorders.

Most of these people are also highly susceptible to displaying personality disorders. In particular, many of them have antisocial personality disorder. This disorder is often characterized by such maladaptive behavioral patterns as breaking the law, insensitivity, manipulation, and dishonesty.

Although there are many temperamental traits that could cause you to start using drugs and drinking alcohol, it is also important to remember that the symptoms of depression and anxiety could also motivate you to seek out these substances.

This is because these substances often provide relief from the suffering that you experience as a result of your symptoms. As a result, you might choose to start using these substances as a way to cope with the negative emotions linked to your depression, anxiety, and stress.

Other studies have explored the physiological differences that could potentially contribute to the risk of addiction. If your sensitivity makes you susceptible to intense perceptional experiences, for instance, you might be tempted to experiment with addictive substances.

On the other hand, the differences in your physiological response to these substances could also mean that you have an unpleasant experience when you decide to experiment with them. As a result, this could potentially impede your potential to continue seeking out these substances in the future.

Environment and Addiction

Although genetics are some of the most critical components responsible for the development of addiction problems, the environment in which you grow up in could also play a major role in such a risk.

Growing up in a home with parents who abuse drugs and drink alcohol, and who struggle with substance use disorders, could largely increase your risk of developing similar or related disorders.

Studies have shown that families with parents who are struggling with addiction often make it difficult for the members. Many of these families are also characterized by high levels of stress.

Additionally, these families are less likely to have a normal routine that their members can follow. As a result, their daily lifestyle is often unpredictable. In the parents, the parents who are struggling with substance use disorders may display erratic behavior and mood swings.

As a result, the children would typically be exposed to experiences that can only be described as stressful and traumatic. This is why most of them will end up developing patterns of depression and anxiety. They could also display ambivalence as a response to the chronic unpredictability and stress that is typical in their family.

The children of addicts also end up struggling with strong emotions. This could be as a result of the stressful experiences they go through due to their parents' addiction problem. These emotions could later impede their healthy emotional and psychological development.

Additionally, most of these children lack the right type of familial guidance and support. As a result, they might not always be able to learn how to regulate their emotional responses appropriately and according to the situations in which they find themselves. This is why most of them will respond to intense emotions with defensiveness. They could, for instance, withdraw, intellectualize, rationalize, act out, self-medicate, or simple shut down.

Many families with addicted parents are also constricted with respect to their emotional responses. The members of these families end up believing that they cannot show their authentic selves because their past experiences have shown that this only triggers chaos and disaster.

As a result, these people end up becoming withdrawn. They may also make excessive efforts to seem collected and calm. If you grew up in such a family, it is highly likely that you will attain adulthood while still struggling with the psychological and emotional baggage of your childhood. This could potentially have a negative impact in your relationship with other people, at school, and later on in your professional career.

Statistics on Addiction and Families

Studies have shown that some people end up developing a substance use disorder after experimenting with drugs and alcohol a couple of times. Others do not develop this condition even after repeatedly attempting to use these substances.

Making the decision to use drugs or drink alcohol for the first time is often a personal choice. However, it is often influenced various biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors.

Even so, your risk of developing a substance use disorder after experimenting with these substances will largely depend on your genetic composition, your environment, and many other social factors.

Research now shows that genetics could be responsible for as much as 50 percent of your risk for drug addiction and alcoholism. However, genes are not the only determinant. Even so, the presence of this genetic predisposition to addiction could potentially increase the likelihood that you will eventually develop a substance use disorder.

The NCADD - the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence - reports that family history is one of the most reliable indicators of alcohol and drug dependence. Research shows that a family history of drug addiction and alcoholism is partly genetic, and not always tied to the family environment in which you grew up in. This effectively means that a parent's addiction can be passed down to their children, and these conditions often run in families.

Other research studies have identified the genes that are linked with the risk of addiction. One of the ways in which genetic composition can increase this risk revolves around how your body metabolizes alcohol. Another is linked to the ways in which nerve cells send signals to each other, and regulate their own activity. Since these genetic changes are passed down through families, it is not entirely surprising why addiction is now considered to be a problem that runs through families.

Your family history can also affect your risk of developing substance use disorders in many other ways. Although genes are a major risk factor, you should also keep in mind that drug addiction and alcoholism are genetically complex issues.

There are certain risk factors within families that could also increase your likelihood of developing a substance use disorder. These risk factors include but are not always limited to:

  • Family dysfunction, including aggression and conflicts
  • Having a parent who abuses drugs and alcohol, or who is addicted to these substances
  • Having parents who suffer from mental health disorders like depression and anxiety

But what do statistics show with regards to the "can a parent's addiction be passed down to their children?" question? As we mentioned above, drug addiction and alcoholism have both environmental and genetic causes. Today, over 28 million people in the United States have alcoholic parents. Of these people, more than 11 million are 18 years and younger. Other statistics linked to addiction in families include:

  • Children who perceive that their parents are permissive of drug use usually end up taking these substances
  • Children who take addictive substances have a high likelihood of having at least one parent who also takes these substances
  • Children with an addicted parent often end up experiencing greater mental and physical health problems and higher welfare and health costs than children from families without any addiction problems
  • If parents take drugs and drink alcohol, it is highly likely that their children will do the same as well
  • Males who have a father who struggles with alcoholism are 4 times as likely to end up becoming alcoholics themselves
  • The children of substance users and addicts are 8 times more likely to end up developing similar substance related issues
  • There is a strong genetic component that plays a role in the development of alcoholism, particularly in males

Getting Help

Since the answer to the "can a parent's addiction be passed down to their children?" question is yes, it is important that parents who are struggling with substance use disorders get help as soon as possible. In case these disorders have already affected the children, it is also essential that these children also get this type of help.

Help usually comes in the form of addiction treatment and rehabilitation. Through this treatment, both parents and their children can heal from the problems caused by the substance abuse. In the long run, this could reduce or completely eliminate the risk that these children could end up struggling with addiction.


Questions? Need Help?

If you or a loved one needs help for substance abuse or addiction, fill out the form below and a counselor will respond shortly.

Fill out this form.
100% Free and Confidential