How to Prevent Addiction if You Have a Family History of Substance Abuse
If you have a family history of substance abuse, you might worry that your destiny is set in stone. Genetics can indeed play a role in addiction, but that’s only a piece of the puzzle. According to the American Psychological Association, about half of your susceptibility to addiction can be attributed to genetic factors. But your genes are not destiny; and both nature and nurture affect addiction.
Many people with family members who have struggled with substance abuse never develop a problem. Although there’s no guarantee that you won’t develop an addiction, the good news is that there are steps you can take to prevent it if you have a family history of substance abuse.
Heal Your Wounds
Several risk factors that can occur in early childhood affect addiction risk, including:
- A lack of attachment and nurturing by parents or caregivers.
- Ineffective parenting.
- A caregiver who abuses drugs.
If you were exposed to any of these issues, chances are you’ve suffered from at least a few psychological scars. These could have a negative impact on your mental health, affect your ability to function and get along with others, and may increase your chances of developing an addiction. Counseling to help heal your wounds may allow you to build insight, address mental health issues, deepen your inner strength, and help you cultivate the coping skills you’ll need to prevent the development of an addiction.
Be Aware of Your Consumption
You don’t necessarily need to be sober if you have a family history of addiction. However it’s important to be aware of your consumption habits if you do choose to drink. People with a family history of alcohol abuse are up to 4 times more likely to develop problems with alcohol. Additionally, if you have a parent who had a drug problem, you may be up to 8 times more likely to develop an addiction. Regardless of your choice, try to monitor your use of alcohol and drugs, and reach out for help if you feel that it’s becoming a problem.
Be Mindful of Triggers
Triggers are things that may make you want to drink or use drugs. Everyone has their own unique triggers.
Common substance abuse triggers:
- Excessive stress.
- Negative moods (such as feeling depressed or anxious).
- Financial troubles.
- Relationship issues.
- Problems at work.
People may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to deal with exposure to these (or other) triggers. It’s important to develop healthier ways of coping, such as practicing the stress management strategies in the following section. It’s also crucial to be aware of times when stress levels or life issues start to feel overwhelming, because that is a sign that you may need to seek counseling or another form of outside support.
Develop a Stress Management Practice
It’s a good idea to implement stress management techniques regularly as a way to prevent stress from building up. Whereas everyone has a certain level of daily stress, life sometimes takes unexpected turns. You may find yourself dealing with increasing responsibilities at work or at home, for instance.
Stress and other environmental factors can influence the way your genes turn on and off. When you experience excessive and chronic stress, your body undergoes hormonal and brain changes that can influence the development of addiction. Stress affects your brain’s reward system, which is responsible for the release of the feel-good hormone dopamine to help you cope. People who experience chronic stress can suffer from impaired production of dopamine, which can ultimately increase the risk of addiction.
You can quickly start to feel paralyzed by stress or experience burnout. Taking time out for yourself can keep the temptation to turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of managing the pressure at bay.
If it feels like you’ve got too much to handle, the best thing you can do for yourself is practice stress management techniques.
Stress Management Techniques:
- Cultivating healthy habits, such as getting enough sleep and eating a balanced diet.
- Developing hobbies.
- Connecting with friends and family.
- Spending time in nature.
- Getting a pet.
- Set aside some “me” time and do whatever you want for a few hours—or a whole day if possible.
Stay Connected with Others
Social support is a preventative factor for addiction; staying connected with others may help you avoid substance abuse problems if you have a family history of addiction. One of the best ways to connect with people who come from similar backgrounds and are dealing with the same issues is to join a 12-step group designed for friends and family of people with addictions, such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. Even when external circumstances don’t allow for participation at in-person meetings, you can still connect with many groups through online platforms.
Tell Your Doctor About Your Family History
It’s a good idea to inform your primary care practitioner if you have a family history of addiction, as this may impact the way they treat different conditions. For example, you may prefer to avoid certain types of medications, such as prescription opioids. Collecting as much information about your family history as possible can help you and your doctor determine the care that’s best for you.
Additionally, you could discuss with your doctor whether you should take a genetic test to predict your vulnerability to addiction. Known as the Genetic Addiction Risk Score (GARS), this test could help you make more informed life decisions. However, the GARS test could cause needless worry for some people. Genetic testing is a very personal choice that should not be taken lightly. Discuss it with your doctor before making any hasty decisions.
Reach Out for Help
If you feel that your drinking or drug use is starting to become a problem, it’s a good idea to address it before it becomes a bigger issue. At American Addiction Centers, we’re committed to helping people overcome addiction, no matter how mild or severe the problem may be. If you’re ready to take control, reach out to us at a time that’s convenient for you.