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If my parent has an addiction, will I have one too?

It’s natural to wonder if you will become an addict if you were raised by someone with a substance abuse problem. Genetic and environmental factors do predispose individuals to addiction, but they do not determine your fate. Children of addicts should be more thoughtful about their relationship to drugs and alcohol. Vigilance can prevent the cycle of addiction from continuing through you. The most important principle you must remember is that the only thing you can control is yourself. Your choices shape your life, not your parent’s decisions. Yes, children of individuals who abuse drugs and alcohol are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol themselves, but there is no gene that causes addiction. What makes you more likely to develop an addiction is the environment you grew up in.

Anyone can develop a substance addiction. The same reward circuitry in our brains that causes individuals become addicted can be triggered by a variety of normal, pleasurable activities. This includes eating, exercising, having sex, or accomplishing goals. It’s actually an advantageous system that can help us. However, even those healthy activities can backfire- we can eat too much, become sexually indiscriminate, or sacrifice friendships for success. The point is: we all have the potential for addiction hardwired into our brains, regardless of our parent’s or grandparent’s history with substance abuse. Everyone, but particularly those who grew up in an abuser’s house, need to be mindful our actions. Children of individuals with addiction should be mindful of how the unhealthy behaviors, poor coping skills, and familiarity with substance abuse affects their lives now.

To do this, you need to develop skills that allow you to deal with life in healthy ways. Through counseling, support groups, and self-improvement you can learn how to contend with life’s ups and downs in a positive, productive manner. A therapist, particularly one who specializes in addiction, provides valuable insight to your upbringing and how it affects you today. Support groups let you know you are not alone; they can empathize with your situation and reinforce the idea that your parents’ addiction is not a reflection of you. You can build a life that reduces stress, a primary trigger of substance abuse, and acquire the tools you need to deal with what stresses do come your way. Any of these activities will significantly improve your chances of avoiding addiction.

The best way to eliminate the possibility of becoming addicted is to abstain from drugs and alcohol. That is easier said than done. Your may want to join in on a celebratory toast, or your doctor may prescribe you essential medication that can become habit forming. Unless you have an addiction or are in recovery, there is nothing wrong with taking medication or drinking alcohol. Just be sure to take precautionary measures that reduce your risk. Most importantly, make sure all your medical professionals are aware of your family’s history of addiction. This is just as important as informing your doctor of a family history of heart disease or cancer. Your doctor can be on the lookout for signs of addiction, and can come up with less risky treatment options for you.

Your support systems can provide another layer of protection. If you see a therapist or go to a support group, tell them about your encounters with drugs and alcohol. Doing so allows you to talk about your experiences and how they affect you. It is natural to be concerned that what starts as a healthy use of medication or consumption of alcohol will snowball into addiction. Talking about those feelings will help you cope with your anxiety and reduce your stress. In addition, the more people aware of your exposure to addictive substances and your family history, the more likely someone will notice and talk with you about early signs of addiction you may display. Taking these preemptive steps before addictive substances grab hold will help you and the people around you stop addiction.

If your parent was addicted to drugs or alcohol, you are by no means doomed to the same fate. Anyone can become addicted to drugs or alcohol. You do, however, need to be more cautious about your relationship with addictive substances. By taking certain steps, such as educating yourself, developing healthy coping skills, and building strong support systems, you can minimize the impact of your parents’ addiction on your life and diminish the chances that you will become addicted. Life is a series of choices, and, regardless of who your parents are, you have the power to make decisions that lead to a happy, healthy, and addiction-free life.

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