History of Drug Abuse

Though drug abuse and drug addiction have only been recognized by the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) as diseases in the last century. Humans have always had a propensity to eat more, drink more, and consume substances that make them feel good. And because addiction to all sorts of substances has been passed down from generation to generation, genetic factors do influence whether a person ends up with a drug addiction. This makes dealing with addiction even more complex — though it helps to understand the role that genetics play in addiction and how a family history of drug abuse may make a person more susceptible to addiction.

Family Has a History of Drug Abuse

Consider these facts:

  • Addiction is an evolutionary advantage, similar to storing fat in the body or having natural coordination skills. Just as some people are better at sports than others, and some people are better at storing fat than others, some people are more susceptible to addiction than others.
  • In a study of 231 people who were diagnosed with drug addiction and 61 people who were not, researchers found that a child of a drug addict is 8 times more likely to develop a drug abuse problem than a child of non-addicts.
  • In a study of 861 identical twin sets and 653 fraternal twin sets, researchers found that one addicted identical twin often meant the other was very likely to be addicted, while an addicted fraternal twin did not change the likelihood of the other’s addiction. This suggests that human genes play a large role in addiction.
  • In a study of more than 18,000 adopted children in Sweden, researchers found that adopted children with biological parents who are drug addicts are twice as likely to abuse drugs, while adopted children with adoptive parents who are drug addicts have only a slight increase in their likelihood of abusing drugs.
  • In a cocaine study, researchers found that a large proportion of siblings had alcohol-related problems if the participant suffered from alcoholism.

These are just a few findings that have helped physicians determine that roughly 50-60% of the risk of addiction isHistory of Drug Abuse due to genetic factors. Still, family history of drug abuse is not the whole story. The other 50% of addiction risk is due to poor coping factors . This is good news for people with a family has a history of drug abuse: It suggests that they can escape their genetic predisposition to addiction by working on their ability to cope with drugs.

What to do if your family has a history of drug abuse:

  • Remember that drug abuse is a disease. Diseases are generally caused partly by genetics and partly by lifestyle, and addiction is no different. Having relatives with drug abuse problems is akin to having relatives with diabetes or heart disease in the family. The risk, while heritable, is surmountable.
  • Develop good habits regarding drug use. It’s a given that one should avoid harmful illegal substances, but also try to avoid (or severely limit) addictive legal substances such as cigarettes, cigars, alcohol, painkillers, and tranquilizers. Cross-addictions — in which someone addicted to one drug is also addicted to another — are common, so avoid or limit any drug that can be addictive, irrespective of a specific family history with that substance.
  • Create a strong family support system. Among African Americans and Hispanics, a support system consisting of family members has been shown to help protect youth against alcohol and drug use. Studies have also shown that parents who provide a safe environment with open communication help reduce the risk of addiction in their children. These support mechanisms are critical in preventing a predisposition from becoming an addiction.

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