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How Genetics Can Influence Addictive Behavior

Genetics are among the many risk factors that can lead to Addiction Disorders. This statement is not as straightforward as it might seem, though. There is no denying that a genetic predisposition to Addiction can exist in families, which can be passed down to their children or grandchildren. We are trying to examine the person’s vulnerability to addictive behaviors based upon their genetic predisposition. 

Understanding the relationship between genetics and Addiction Disorders does more than simply help Licensed Clinical Psychologists identify risk factors. By studying how genetics can influence addictive behavior, we can also learn more about the role certain genetic variations play in Addiction symptoms, treatment, and more. Explore genetic risk factors for Addiction Disorders and how they influence thoughts, emotions, and behaviors associated with Addiction with this overview. 

Understanding Genetic Susceptibility 

Before you delve into specific genetic variations that influence addictive behaviors, it is important to understand what we mean when we discuss Addiction-related genes. There is no such thing as an Addiction gene that causes addictive behaviors and Addiction Disorders. Instead, Licensed Clinical Psychologists focus on genetic variations that increase vulnerability to an Addiction Disorder. 

These genetic variations can indicate several different things. They might lead to a genetic preference for certain addictive substances, such as alcohol, nicotine, or cocaine, making one more likely to use and develop an addiction to those substances. Alternatively, they might affect the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, making it harder for the individual to overcome their Addiction Disorder.  

Examples of Genes That Affect Addiction 

By studying genetic variations within chromosome segments through family trees, scientists can identify specific variations that appear more often in individuals with Addiction Disorders. These genes can be relevant to addictive behaviors in general, but they might also only affect responses to specific addictive substances. Genes that affect Addiction Disorders often influence factors such as the reward pathway in the brain, the body’s ability to process certain substances, cravings, stress responses, and so on.  

These types of genetic studies are ongoing, and Clinical Psychologists are always examining the relationship between genes and addictive behaviors. Below are just a few examples of specific genetic sequences that influence an individual’s predisposition to Addiction Disorders. 

ADH1B and ALDH2 

ADH1B and ALDH2 are metabolic genes that influence the way your body breaks down alcohol. Higher levels of ADH1B activity or lower levels of ALDH2 activity negatively affect your ability to metabolize alcoholic beverages. Difficulties metabolizing can make you more susceptible to unpleasant effects such as nausea, headaches, or a rapid heartbeat.  

As a result, people with these specific genetic variations are less likely to enjoy alcohol, which means they are less likely to drink regularly and develop a dependency. This makes ADH1B and ALDH2 genes protective variants against Alcohol Addiction. 


GABRA2 and CHRM2 genetic variations are also linked specifically to Alcohol Addiction. Both variants have a strong association with alcohol dependence—especially early-onset alcohol addiction. Furthermore, CHRM2 has a close link to Major Depressive Disorder, while GABRA2 is linked to conduct and behavioral problems, which are risk factors for Addiction Disorders in and of themselves. 

Genes Associated With Stress Resilience 

Genetic variations such as MAOA, SLC6A4, and COMT influence aspects of Addiction neurobiology, including your reward pathways and traits like impulsiveness. These genes also impact your stress response. A poor stress response makes negative thoughts and emotions, traumatic experiences, and so on more severe. This severity, in turn, disrupts your ability to manage stress and increases your likelihood of developing maladaptive coping techniques such as abusing alcohol or drugs. 


CHRNA5 is part of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit cluster. It contains codes for a protein that helps with nicotine identification; as a result, it affects your sensitivity to nicotine. Individuals with two copies of this specific genetic variation are twice as likely to develop nicotine dependency. CHRNA5 affects the adult brain more than the adolescent brain, making it more likely to increase susceptibility to Addiction Disorder in adults. 


Addictive substances such as drugs or alcohol increase activity in the reward pathway by increasing dopamine levels. As a dopamine receptor gene, DRD2 affects that process. Those with the A1 allele form of this gene experience higher sensitivity to the positive reward feedback from specific addictive substances, including alcohol, cocaine, and opioids. 

Comorbid Disorders With Genetic Components 

Another way genetics can influence addictive behavior is through genetic risk factors to comorbid disorders. Many Mental Health Disorders that commonly coincide with Addiction Disorders—including Depressive Disorders, Personality Disorders, Schizophrenia, PTSD, and more—have their own genetic risk factors. If you are genetically predisposed to and develop one of these Mental Health Conditions, you can also develop an Addiction Disorder. These comorbid disorders exacerbate one another, worsening the symptoms and challenges of Addiction and other Mental Health Issues. 

Genetic Factors Do Not Work Alone 

While it is necessary to understand the role genetics play in addictive behaviors, it is just as important to recognize that there are other influences that play critical roles in developing addictive behaviors. Licensed Clinical Psychologists and their patients must also contend with environmental factors. The unique interaction between genetic and environmental factors is what actually defines each individual’s experience with Addiction Disorders. 

Environmental factors might refer to the actual environment in which you live. Living in a home environment and settings that normalizes substance abuse, addictive behaviors, codependency, or having family members and friends that promote, perpetuate, and foster addiction or codependency makes you more susceptible to developing Addiction Disorders.  

Life experiences or family situations are other examples of environmental factors. These factors can include traumatic experiences, abuse, childhood neglect, and lack of attachment security. Negative childhood experiences and adulthood traumas can significantly influence maladaptive behaviors and unfavorable personality traits such as poor decision-making, stress management, lack of emotional regulation, inability to modulate affect, poor impulse control, and other adverse factors that play a significant role in your susceptibility to Addiction Disorders. 

Behaviors Passed Through Families 

Learned behavior can also play a huge role in the development of or vulnerability to Addiction Disorders. Though these behaviors are not true genetic factors, they can still stem from family and caretakers. For example, witnessing a close family member’s experiences with Addiction Disorders can normalize the behaviors associated with it. This experience might teach you the false and dangerous lesson that turning to alcohol or drugs is an appropriate way to deal with negative thoughts and emotions. 

Poor role modeling, a lack of supervision, and other family factors also hinder mental and emotional development. This leads to behavioral issues that increase your chances of developing Addiction Disorders. 

Finding Addiction Treatment 

At Blair Wellness Group, we help clients heal from their Addiction Disorders by addressing Addiction at its source. Understanding the ways genetics and other risk factors affect neural pathways, behaviors, and emotional skills is the key to developing an effective treatment strategy. Book an appointment with Blair Wellness Group and work with a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Irvine, Newport Beach, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Century City, and the surrounding areas who will help you heal from your Addiction Disorder and build a healthier, more positive life for yourself. 

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