Have you ever wondered if addiction is truly genetic in nature? If it is, are we doomed to become an alcoholic if there is alcoholism in our family history? Annie discusses genetic influence, susceptibility, and long term exposure. Annie use research from a variety of sources to answer this age-old question of ‘is addiction genetic’?

The Addicted Brain by Professor Thad A. Polk

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Is Addiction Genetic?

This is still an area of science that so much work is going on with. There is probably a lot that we don’t know, as much as probably a lot of scientists know. It’s clear obviously that our genes affect us in all sorts of ways. They influence how our bodies react to external substances, like how easily we sunburn, for instance. It’s clear that two people respond differently to alcohol, or drugs, or whatever else they put in their bodies. For instance, if I have a glass of wine and my friend has a glass of wine, it will affect us differently. We will feel differently about it. One will get tipsier faster or slower. We’re just different people. Different human beings, so one glass of wine can affect two people very differently, and long term exposure obviously has very different effects on each of us.


There’s definitely evidence for genes that increase proclivity for addiction to alcohol. So, just like there’s genetic relationships that influence every other addiction, including addiction to food or anything else, there is evidence of genetic relationships that influence addiction and addiction to alcohol. Jillian Parks, she’s a certified health and wellness expert, and she’s actually a coach for This Naked Mind. She sort of describes this relationship a bit like a ying and a yang, like we all kind of are seeking something.


We generally have imbalance inside of us, and sometimes it’s alcohol that really ticks the box for one person, whereas food or chocolate might really tick the box for someone else. So, there’s sort of this whatever’s going on inside of us, perhaps it’s a deficit that alcohol or something else could be more impactful, more powerful, more of the answer than perhaps something else. Now, I realize that’s not to do with genetics, but I thought it’s an interesting theory about why some people just so quickly fall so in love with alcohol seemingly, and others kind of go their whole lives kind of take it or leave it sort of thing. So, I think it’s very complex, but the question’s specifically about genetics, so let’s stick to that.

Still Learning

The reality is, like I said, it’s an area we’re learning more about all the time. Experts have discovered many loose relationships between genes and addiction, and genes and alcohol addiction, but none definitive enough to declare a single gene responsible at this point in time. The genetics lab at the University of Utah, it’s a department that studies the role of genes in addiction, they say that someone’s genetic makeup will never doom them to becoming an addict. I think that’s the crux of the information here. That’s the really good news, that your genes will not define you in this area.

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The Addicted Brain

Professor Thad A. Polk is the author of The Addicted Brain. He says that there is no single addiction gene, that dozens of genes have been identified that affect addiction susceptibility and that most of them only have a small effect by themselves. We have not yet found a single way to diagnose or prevent addiction based on genetics. He goes on to say that you will not be doomed to becoming an alcoholic based on your genetics. I think that is the crux here. There’s so many things we can control. Genetics obviously we can’t control. We got what we were born with but genetics can’t actually doom us to becoming an alcoholic, which is very good news.

Genetic Markers

Dr. Kevin McCauley, an expert on addiction, actually cites studies where rats were bred for high or low genetic burden for addiction. So, either rats were bred with all the genetic markers turned on or all the genetic markers that increase your proclivity for addiction turned off. Even the rats that were bred with a genetically low burden for addiction became addicted in these trials. So they were able to give these rats substances over time, and even the rats with absolutely no burden for addiction genetically became addicted. So, you can still get these mice addicted.

The Potential Is There

For me this shows that, yes, our initial desire for a certain substance may have genetic influence. My oldest son, he doesn’t like chocolate. Like, what? Really? But anyway, he doesn’t like chocolate, and perhaps it’s genetic. Some people  from their very first sip of alcohol it was like they opened a can of Heaven on Earth, and that first beer was just everything. Others take a really long time to acquire the taste or the desire for how it made them feel. I think that there’s so many individualities inside of each of us, but experts all agree that genes do not define your destiny.

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Special music thank you to the Kevin MacLeod Funkorama (incompetech.com)
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