Research has shown that children of drug-addicted parents are more likely to suffer from addiction themselves. Studies indicate that children of drug-addicted parents are three times more likely to become addicts later in life. However, there are several complex factors that work together to affect the course of a child’s life and his or her relationship with drugs and alcohol.
Just like you may have inherited your mom’s eye color or your father’s height, you can also inherit behavioral traits from your parents. Your genes are the blueprints for your entire body. Genes tell your cells how to build organs and tissues, including your brain. Your brain is a complex network of neurons that work together to create your personality and allow you to think about and interact with the world. Parents with addictive tendencies can pass those personality traits on to their children genetically. According to recent research, genetic factors are responsible for 40% to 60% of an individual’s degree of risk for developing addictive behaviors. The remaining part of the equation is based on environment.
Children who grow up in households with one or more drug-addicted parents learn from an early age that drugs are a way to cope with problems. Many children who witness a parent popping pills when he or she is anxious or drinking alcohol as a way to relax learn to rely on substances to relieve pain and unpleasant emotions. Additionally, children who grow up with parents who drink beer or wine every night with dinner learn that alcohol is a normal part of one’s daily routine. As adults, these children are more likely to emulate the behaviors of their parents. Excessive use of alcohol and other drugs can quickly lead to addiction.
Nature and Nurture
Human beings are complex creatures. There is no one single factor that causes any particular behavior. Rather, our genetics influence the way our brains are wired, which influences how we see the world. Over time, we learn about the world through experiences, which further influence our brain structures, beliefs and decisions. As a result, both nature (genetics) and nurture (social learning) are jointly responsible for increasing one’s risk for addiction. However, just because a person is at a high risk for developing an addiction does not mean that he or she will. Every person has free will to choose behaviors and their consequences. Even if you are predisposed to addiction, you can make healthy choices that protect you from the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.
Administration on Children, Youth and Families. (2009). Protecting Children in Families Affected by Substance Use Disorders. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/substanceuse.pdf National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2012). A Family History of Alcoholism. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/familyhistory/famhist.htm