Substance abuse is a complex disorder that has many causes. One of the biggest influences is the family. Scientific research shows that both genetics and the home environment can create a circle of family addiction, with one generation passing on addiction to the next.
The Genetic Factor
By studying the rate of alcoholism among adoptees whose biological parents were alcoholic, researchers have found that the children of alcoholics are 2 to 9 times more likely to become alcoholics. The abuse of cocaine, opiates, stimulants and sedatives follow this same pattern. According to the Genetic Science Center at the University of Utah, there is no single gene that is responsible for addiction. Instead, vulnerability to addiction is caused by many interacting genes.
Besides genetics, mothers who abuse alcohol or drugs during pregnancy expose their children to the risk of birth defects and neurological damage that can affect concentration and cognitive abilities. These deficits will impact the child’s ability to succeed in the classroom and workplace and leave the child vulnerable to develop substance abuse issues of his or her own.
The Role of Environment
The home and community environment also play a large role in determining if a child will grow up to have problems with substance abuse. Both parents and siblings play a major role. When a child grows up with family members who abuse drugs and alcohol, there is a strong likelihood that this behavior will be imitated when the child reaches adolescence. The attitude of the parents about substance abuse can be just as influential. When parents communicate a permissive attitude about drug and alcohol use, their children are more likely to develop a substance abuse problem.
Growing up in an area where poverty and crime are prevalent can also be a factoring in determining whether a child will develop a substance abuse problem during adolescence and adulthood. A poor school system is another environmental factor that plays a role in determining who will become addicted to alcohol or drugs.
The Importance of Resiliency
Although a large percentage of the children of substance abusers develop their own problems with addiction, many are able to break the circle of addiction. A study by E.E. Werner of the children of alcoholics conducted on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, found that while 41 percent developed serious coping problems by the age of 18, a majority of 59 percent did not. The children who were less affected by their parents’ addiction were found to be more resilient. Thanks to positive attention they received from other adults outside the home, they were able to develop a positive attitude and a greater sense of self-esteem that helped them resist addictive behavior.