How do Addictive Substances Affect our Genes

You may have heard that substance abuse can be caused by family genetics. While scientists are still trying to understand the complex process of genetics and addiction, a question to ponder is, does substance abuse affect our genes?

What Is Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse, sometimes referred to as substance use disorder, is a pattern of using prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, street drugs, or alcohol in an unhealthy manner or in a way not intended. Substance abuse can cause physical or psychological harm to a person, may damage relationships, and can cause loss of income because of poor job performance.

Is Substance Abuse Caused by Genetics?

Scientists who study addiction and genetics look for why one person has a response to a substance and others don’t. Substance abuse is complex, and scientists feel there’s not just one gene that runs in a family causing substance abuse, but variations in multiple genes that may lead to addiction. While genetic testing is a tricky process, scientists believe genetics may increase a person’s chance of addiction and substance abuse.

Does Substance Abuse Change Our Genes?

How do addictive substances affect our genes? Substance abuse can alter gene expression and gene function for the rest of our lives. Scientists who study epigenetics, how genes change or express themselves through environmental factors or substance use, found that select substances can increase the production of proteins found in the brain that can lead to addiction. Researchers have found that histones, which provide a structure for genes to wrap around, can alter how genes express themselves from substance abuse.

Drugs and alcohol have addictive components that can create adaptive changes for select genes in the brain that increase tolerance for the substance. These gene expressions can cause habit formations that often last a lifetime. Researchers feel that these permanent adaptive changes in gene expression may lead to relapse. It’s important for people who misuse addictive substances to seek treatment. They also may need lasting treatment to help prevent relapsing back to using the drug or alcohol.

Does a Healthy Lifestyle Change Our Genes?

Just as substance abuse can affect and alter our genes, a healthy lifestyle can also alter genes. Epigenetic researchers find that a healthy diet can alter genes to improve metabolism and help reduce obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Daily exercise also positively alters epigenetic patterns in the metabolism of fatty acids.

In a study by a research team at several distinguished universities, they found that your friends, community, and people you spend time with can also alter your genes. The research team feels that your social environment can help certain genes influence certain behaviors. When you surround yourself with healthy people who don’t misuse substances, your genes adapt to wanting to lead a clean and sober lifestyle.

Substance abuse can have negative impacts on your health, relationships, career, and community involvement. If you feel like substance abuse is controlling your life and you want to become sober, seek treatment as soon as possible. Treatment for substance abuse will help you take control of your addiction so you can live a happy and healthy life.

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