Personality Genetics And Addiction

Certain factors may increase an individual’s chances of developing an addiction to a harmful behavior or substance. These vulnerabilities can be genetic, environmental or circumstantial. Age and gender, for example, play a role in susceptibility to addiction.

Genetics

Genetic predisposition can raise a person’s level of vulnerability to almost any substance, but having an addict in one’s family does not guarantee that one will eventually become an addict.

While no single gene determines one’s susceptibility to addiction, researchers have discovered several genes linked to addiction risk. For example, according to the University of Utah, the gene CYP2A6 — which appears to cause nausea and dizziness from smoking — is more often present in non-smokers than smokers. Alcoholism is rare in people with two copies of the ALDH*2 gene variation. Other genes have been linked to cocaine, morphine and heroin dependence (2010).

A genetic predisposition can be offset by limited access to an addictive substance, strong social relationships and strong ties with family.

Personality

What is an “addictive personality”? Does such a thing exist? Research has never shown a single individual personality trait that can accurately predict a person’s vulnerability to addiction. That being said, there are certain traits that appear in slightly higher concentrations among those who experience addiction. Some of these traits and tendencies may include:

  • Low tolerance for delayed gratification
  • Low regard for conformity as a value system
  • Relative tolerance for deviant behavior
  • Risk taking tendencies
  • Sensation seeking tendencies.

Of course, all of these traits are subjective. It’s important to bear in mind that no person is destined to become an addict. If you suspect an alcohol addiction, drug addiction or behavioral addiction in yourself or another person, reputable treatment programs are available to all regardless of personality, genetics or background.

The Most Important Question

A potential addict (or the loved one of a potential addict) may first ask: Am I in danger? The question is valid, but the answer varies widely depending on the person and the substance or behavior under consideration. Some substances can be abused repeatedly for years without resulting in an addiction, and some can cause addictive symptoms after a single use that adheres to prescription directions.

Likewise, some behavioral addictions can be continued for years without appearing to diminish a person’s ability to hold a job or maintain relationships. Addicts who continue to function are statistically more common than non-functional addicts, but their lives and health are nevertheless in jeopardy.

A subtle and complex equation links personality, genetics and addiction. The best solution is to speak with a doctor or mental health professional about your specific case. Otherwise, concern is warranted if a potential addict:

  • Exhibits changes in functionality and/or priorities
  • Falls into one or more high risk categories for the specific substance or behavior in question
  • Has attempted to discontinue the behavior or use of the substance and has encountered difficulty or failed altogether
  • Has other stressors or mental health problems in their life that raise the appeal of the substance or behavior as a coping mechanism.

Resources

Melemis, S.M. (2010). Welcome to recovery. Retrieved August 4, 2010, from http://www.addictionsandrecovery.org/

The National Institutes of Health. (2010). NIDA Infofacts: Science-based facts on drug abuse and addiction. Retrieved August 3, 2010, from http://www.drugabuse.gov/infofacts/Infofaxindex.html

Nelson, B. (1983). The addictive personality: common traits are found. Retrieved August 4, 2010, from http://www.nytimes.com/1983/01/18/science/the-addictive-personality-common-traits-are-found.html?sec=health

University of Utah. (2010). Genetics is an important factor in addiction. Retrieved August 4, 2010, from http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/genetics/