There is a sizeable collection of evidence suggesting that genetics plays a part in the development of addiction. Studies on families do show a tendency for the condition to pass from generation to generation, while there are regular reports in the media with scientists claiming to have found the addictive gene. It now seems almost certain that hereditary factors make some people more likely to develop this problem than others, but this idea can lead to a lot of confusion and misunderstanding.
If people become addicted due to their unfortunate genetic inheritance, does this not then mean that others without these genes not having to worry about developing the problem? This could be a reasonable conclusion; however, it is actually dangerously wrong. In fact, thinking this way may actually increase the likelihood of any individual developing an addiction no matter what their genetic makeup.
If people believe they are safe from addiction because they do not have the wrong genes, it means they could develop a false of security. These individuals may develop an attitude towards alcohol or drugs that puts them at high risk of problems. The person may decide to abuse these substances with the conviction that there are going to be no consequences. Once the addiction has developed, the person can then use the idea of ‘not having the bad genes’ to reinforce his or her own denial.
The truth is that nobody is safe from addiction, and genetics is only one reason why a person may develop the problem. It only takes a few bad decisions or a patch of good luck and anyone could develop this type of problem. All a genetic predisposition does is increase the odds of this type of problem occurring, but it does not mean that a person with these genes will become addicted; and it does not mean that those without the genes will not.
One of the other problems with blaming addiction on genetics is that it can create a sense of fatality within people. This means that the alcoholic is able to justify his or her own behaviour with the words ‘it’s just the way I’ve been designed’. This type of thinking is extremely disempowering, and the fact that so many people have managed to overcome addiction proves that it is not true.
Environmental factors are just as important in genetic inheritance when it comes to addiction problems. If people grow up in an environment whereby others around them are using alcohol or drugs in an unhealthy way, they will grow up believing that such behaviour is normal. In fact, this as well as a genetic inheritance can help to explain why addiction tends to occur in families.
One of the other common reasons why individuals develop addiction problems is they lack proper coping mechanisms for dealing with problems in life. This can mean that things start feeling overwhelming and alcohol or drugs can provide a temporary refuge. In the beginning, individuals may convince themselves that they are just having a couple of drinks to unwind; they may be well under the sway of addiction before they even begin to suspect that something is amiss.
There are plenty of stories of those who worked hard all their life, never showing any signs of problems with alcohol or drugs, yet still developing an addiction during retirement. Some of these people may have had a predisposition towards addiction, but is certainly not always the case. It just goes to show that it does not matter how many years a person has been behaving sensibly around alcohol or drugs, it does not guarantee that they will not develop problems later.