How Far Does The Apple Fall From The Tree?
Imagine watching your child lie in a bed and experiencing the worst pain they have ever felt. Imagine being unable to help them or make them the slightest bit comfortable. Imagine your child is an addict. Today, many kids begin experimenting with drugs by the time they reach middle school. By high school age, almost all of them have tried some sort of drink or drug at least once. Many people begin to show signs of addiction in their late teens and early twenties. Who’s to blame for these young addicts and their newly developing addictions? Some people blame genetics, others blame the environment. What if both play an equally important role?
There is a ton of evidence surrounding the idea that addiction is a family disease. That means that addiction is genetic and can be passed down like eye color or hair color. This idea is sort of a double-edged sword. On one hand it explains how there are so many people becoming addicted and turning to substances to solve their problems. On the other hand, it makes us helpless as a society to stop or curb this epidemic.
According to an article by Addictions and Recovery they found that around 50 to 60 percent of addiction is due to genetic factors while the remaining percent is due to a variety of other variables such as environmental exposure and mental health issues. Another interesting find was in identical twins, where one twin was an addict and the other wasn’t, the non-addicted twin had an extremely high chance of being an addict as well. In fraternal twins, the non-addicted twin had no higher risk of becoming an addict than any other sibling. Assuming all the children were raised in the same environment and under the same conditions there’s a lot to be said about addiction being genetic.
Children of addicted parents are almost eight times as likely to become addicts themselves but is it monkey see, monkey do or were they born with this condition? If the parents are addicts themselves there is a chance that they didn’t develop better coping skills for their problems. As a result, the child of these addicted parents may lack proper coping skills. The child may have even started to develop negative coping skills, which only further increase their chance of becoming an addict. A child can’t change their genetic makeup, but they can change how they perceive things or how they chose to handle certain events in their lives.
The other theory is that addiction is a disease that stems from the environment in which a child is raised. The child is under extreme stress or has a catastrophic event happen in their lives which they do not have the tools to deal with and therefore they find an outlet. The outlet may manifest itself in behavioral issues if they are still young and later grown into a drug addiction.
A huge impact may be the child’s friend group. If they hang around other children who partake in drug use they are much more likely to use drugs and potentially become addicted. Even still according to drug abuse studies only about 10 percent of people who try drugs become addicted to them. A lot of risk factors play a role in just how much that first taste of drugs sticks in a child’s mind. Risk factors include aggressive behavior, lack of parental supervision, availability of drugs in their community, poor social skills, and poverty. Some of those factors are things that a child has no control over suggesting that the child may be predisposed to addiction simply due to the environment in which they were raised.
Other factors can be taught or learned in school or by other kids. Lack of after school activities tend to play a huge role in whether or not a child picks up drugs. Some schools have very limited space in clubs or in sports or the child may not have the ability to participate in them. However, there are many programs such as The Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA that can be a positive influence in young children’s lives.
Right Brain or Left Brain
The final theory about addiction is that drug addiction is unpredictable. It goes back to the theory of a right or left-brained person. It’s said that a right-brained person is more analytical, and a left-brained person is more creative. This theory is also used to explain why some people are left-handed, but a majority of people are right-handed. The same theory can be applied to addiction.
This being said, environmental and genetic factors both play a role in whether or not the person becomes an addict, but they aren’t the deciding factor. Some children develop healthy coping skills and their childhood environment doesn’t end up affecting their adulthood. Other children grew up in perfect homes, in great families and communities, and had everything they needed in order to succeed in life, yet they still became addicts. This theory explains both scenarios but is a little disheartening because it means there is very little we can do to combat or solve the current addiction epidemic.
Every Effort Counts
The one thing that all researchers can agree on is that addiction is composed of roughly 50% genetics and 50% environmental influences. There are still many ongoing studies to find ways to better understand the genetic disposition to addiction. There are also many programs that help children who are in communities or environments where drug addiction is prevalent. Regardless of how or why drug addiction starts the important thing is being open and honest with your child when they come to you with a concern. Creating a safe environment where your children can talk to you openly about things that are going on in their lives or ask you questions about your experiences in these subjects is an important factor in helping prevent addiction.