Did you know that family history and genetics can put children of addicts at higher risk of drug use and addiction? It’s important to understand how addiction can be passed down in families, and how to break the cycle of addiction.

What Causes Addiction to Be Passed Down in Families?

Anyone can become addicted to drugs or alcohol, but those who have an addicted parent have an 8 times higher chance of becoming addicted themselves.

There is no single cause of addiction and the factors that lead to this higher vulnerability to addiction in families come from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Genetic Factors

There’s not a single gene that leads to addiction. However, there are genes that can:

  • Cause a person to experience more pleasure from certain substances
  • Make it harder for a person to quit substance use once they try stopping
  • Make the person experience more severe withdrawal symptoms, which also make it harder to quit for good

Even if you have the sort of genes that make addiction more dangerous, it’s important to understand that being more susceptible to addiction doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to happen to you.

“Just because you are prone to addiction doesn’t mean you’re going to become addicted. It just means you’ve got to be careful,” says Dr. Glen Hanson of the University of Utah. “It’s not inevitability; it’s vulnerability.”

Science is still exploring this area. Researchers believe that there may be more than 50 genes that contribute, each in their own small way, to addiction vulnerability.

Environmental Factors

Certain circumstances in a person’s life can also lead to a higher susceptibility to addiction. The types of familial situations that can contribute to addiction include:

Seeing Substance Abuse Modeled as Normal Behavior

Whatever a child sees within the family growing up is what he or she considers normal, at least for the first several years of life.

Many children of alcoholics have said something along the lines of, “I thought everyone’s dad drank after work and passed out on the couch.”

It’s not until they’re exposed to a different family environment that they learn this isn’t normal?and then, most likely, begin to have insecurities about their own familial situation.


Many adults drink and abuse drugs as a way of coping with the many forms of stress that accompany limited financial resources. Unhappiness with pay, unfulfilling jobs and working long hours to barely get by leads to high stress and short tempers. Crime and drug trafficking are also more common in low-income communities, adding to stress levels and making drugs more readily accessible, and perhaps desirable.

Physical and/or Emotional Abuse

Trauma is one of the leading causes of substance abuse, and domestic abuse and child abuse are the most common causes of traumatic experiences in America. Many people who abuse substances do so to escape from unpleasant memories, feelings of helplessness and low self-esteem.

How Children Can Break the Cycle of Addiction

Children Of Addicts Become Addicted Statistic - ATS

While the children of alcoholics and drug addicts are more susceptible to substance use, they may also be more aware of the dangers, having witnessed the consequences of addiction firsthand. Therefore, they may actually have stronger motivation to avoid the mistakes of their parents.

In some cases, however, it’s not always clear to children which factors led their parents into addiction, which makes it harder to avoid those same pitfalls. Gaining a better understanding of the causes of addiction can be immensely helpful in this regard.

Because domestic abuse so often leads to substance abuse in the victim, seeking out professional counseling and therapy services is one of the easiest ways that people can proactively work to prevent substance abuse and addiction in their own lives.

If you have a parent in your life who has struggled with addiction, make a commitment to avoiding all potentially addictive substances, and seek out healthy, alternative ways of dealing with stress, coping with trauma and finding pleasure in life.

How Parents Can Help Break the Cycle of Addiction

Respectable addiction treatment programs will teach recovering addicts relapse-prevention strategies, including:

  • Healthy ways of dealing with stress
  • How to avoid triggers
  • How to build and maintain healthy relationships

By passing on this knowledge to their children, parents can give family members valuable skills that can prevent substance abuse and addiction from beginning in the first place.

Helping your children avoid addiction involves more than just saying, “Don’t do drugs. Drugs are bad.” Children learn more powerfully from what parents do than what they say, especially if words and actions don’t match up. If you’ve struggled with addiction, talk to your children about what led you down that path and show your commitment to recovery through your actions.

Learn How to Recognize the Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

Is My Loved One Addicted to Alcohol or Drugs?