Is Addiction a Genetic Disease?

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The genetic history behind addiction disorders has been studied extensively in the last decade. Genetic factors play a significant role in whether or not someone can get addicted to a substance or addictive behavior (gambling, sex, shopping, etc.). These odds are further increased when negative childhood environmental factors compound genetic findings.

Still, some people can have genes that indicate they will become addicted but don’t, and the opposite is true. Why this phenomenon occurs has to do with gene expression called epigenetics.

Research suggests that genes can play a part in how a person responds to his or her environment, placing some people at higher risk for diseases such as addiction than others. (NIDA)

Why Addiction Researchers Study Epigenetics and Genetics

Epigenetics studies how genes get turned on and off in specific environments and behaviors that a person experiences. The Centers for Disease Control explain what is meant by epigenetics:

Epigenetics is the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work. Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are reversible and do not change your DNA sequence, but they can change how your body reads a DNA sequence. In addition, exposure to drugs or stress in a person’s social or cultural environment can alter both gene expression and gene function, which, in some cases, may persist throughout a person’s life. (CDC, 2022)

More About Genes and Addiction

Genetics is the study of genes. A gene is a functional unit of DNA that makes up the human genome. The purpose of the genome is to direct the body’s primary cellular activities. Based on research on the human genome, 99.9 percent of DNA sequences are the same between two people.

The 0.1 percent variation, on the other hand, has profound importance. It accounts for three million differences between three billion base pairs of DNA, which is a staggering amount of variation. As a result of these differences, hair, eye, and skin color are outwardly varied. Inwardly this means an increased risk of getting certain diseases, such as addiction.

Can I Get Addicted If It is In My Genes?

Yes, the chance of someone being predisposed to addiction is predicted to be about 70 % more likely if the individual’s blood relatives were addicted to substances or behavioral addictions. There is more evidence of substance use causing a genetic link over behavioral addictions such as gambling, sex, and others. Still, the critical component is: did the individual grow up in an environment that impacted them negatively? The environment a person is raised in has the potential to express (addiction) genes inherited from generations before.

What Are Environmental Factors that Impact Addiction?

The subject of environment is often referred to as nature and nurture. This describes the literal environment and how the person was cared for as a child and teen. The situations that include nature and nurture as positive or negative leading to gene expression and addiction include:

  • Active drug and alcohol use by parents or caretakers in the home or condoning the use
  • Living in a neighborhood where drugs and alcohol are widespread
  • Instances of trauma (witnessing violence, emotional neglect, physical or sexual abuse, poverty, and homelessness)
  • Peers and friends who use drugs and alcohol

Addiction Assessments Are Available by Phone

To find out if you or a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, or has a behavioral addiction to gambling, sex, food, shopping, or gaming, call now for an assessment on the phone. Our representatives will provide preliminary diagnoses based on questions used by addiction counselors to determine if there is a disorder and how severe or mild. Do not let a family history or addiction lead to current problems.

We provide evidence-based forms of therapy that acknowledge genetics and environmental factors that may have caused you to get addicted or your relative. There is support and a solution. Reach us by phone 24 hours a day for an assessment and treatment plan.

Medically Reviewed: November 8, 2022

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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