Sara Bellum
February 18 2011

Learn the latest: Read our 2014 update of “Real Teens Ask: Is Addiction Hereditary?

On NIDA’s Drug Facts Chat Day 2010, scientists answered a lot of your great questions. This one is from “I AM MIKE from Jefferson Township High School in Trenton, New Jersey: "Are you more likely to do drugs if someone in your family does?"

Rolling the Dice

The short answer is “yes.”

The risk of developing drug and alcohol problems is higher in children whose parents abuse alcohol or drugs—but it is NOT a guarantee. Research shows that children with parents who abuse alcohol or drugs are more likely to try alcohol or drugs and develop alcoholism or drug addiction. Why?

  • Children whose parents abuse alcohol and drugs are more likely to have behavioral problems, which increases the risk of trying alcohol or drugs. They are also exposed to more opportunities to try these substances.
  • Plus, children of parents who abuse drugs may inherit a genetic predisposition (or greater likelihood) for addiction—having an “addictive personality,” so to speak.

Of course, most children of parents who abuse alcohol or drugs do not develop alcoholism or addiction themselves, so your genes do not write your destiny to become addicted to drugs. BUT to avoid that risk entirely, it’s best not to start, and if you’ve already tried drugs or alcohol, stop now.

Help Is Out There

When someone has a drug problem, it's not always easy to know what to do. If someone you know is using drugs, encourage him or her to talk to a parent, school guidance counselor, or other trusted adult. Confidential resources are out there, like the Treatment Referral Helpline (1-800-662-HELP) offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which refers callers to particular treatment facilities, support groups, and other local organizations. You can also locate substance abuse treatment centers in your state by going to samhsa.gov/treatment.

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