Substance Abuse and Your Biological History


When facing substance abuse and dependency, there are many things to take into consideration. If you have a substance abuse issue or love someone who does and are seeking help, make sure that the person you work with is knowledgeable about the basic foundations of dependency and substance abuse issues, yet still willing to explore the latest research (Faulkner, 2009). Being aware of the causes of addiction along with the current research is crucial. Understanding the continuum that you or your loved one will travel through and the factors of initiation, continuation, addiction, recovery, and relapse is important to understand (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008). However, there also must be an acceptance of genetic theory in regards to comprehending the nature of the continuum as well. When looking at the research contemplating genetic theory, there is no doubt that there is a connection between the brain’s construction and substance addiction. Recognizing this link is imperative to understanding addiction and substance abuse. And the knowledge of this link is changing all the time.

Let’s look at what I mean a little further . . . 

There are numerous studies regarding the biological and genetic influences that correlate explicit genes to alcohol, opiates, and cocaine, as well as other substance addictions. Much research has focused on twin and adoption studies, with significant results. For instance, there has been found to be a predisposition for alcoholism in male twin studies while other twin studies have shown a dependent-specific vulnerability to heroin (Prescott, Madden & Stallings, 2006; Saxon, et al, 2005). Adoption studies have shown a link between biological parents and alcoholic offspring, regardless of environmental factors, while sibling studies show a link for nicotine dependency (Faulkner, 2009; Prescott, et al, 2006).

Organic research has also been very revealing. For instance, it has been discovered there are different metabolizing structures in those who are alcoholics versus those who are not (George, 1990, as cited in Faulkner, 2009). Researchers have focused much attention on particular receptor sites which engage the pleasure pathway.  For example, the blocking of dopamine receptor sites by substances such as cocaine are apparent and this has led researchers to believe such actions could direct further genetic coding in the brain (Prescott, et al, 2006). A continuous release of dopamine, through the use of substances such as heroin or cocaine, creates a type of behavior modification through positive reinforcement.

Even more interesting are the intergenerational studies coming forth that shows a link between type and gender (Faulkner, 2009). Type II alcoholics, compared to Type I alcoholics, are more violent under the influence of alcohol and exhibit compulsive drinking, and their personality traits are more dependent in nature. Type II alcoholics are gender specific, carrying the possibility of addiction from mother to daughter or father to son, whereas Type I alcoholic are cross-gender, in which the alcoholism is transferred from mother to son and father to daughter (Faulkner, 2009).

Such revealing research leaves little doubt that there is a definitive connection between biology and addiction. What this truly means is, as you work toward recovery with your counselor or coach, take a look at your biology. Appreciate where you have come from in light of where you are going. You are battling demons of both the genetic kind and the mental kind. Take care and know that the more knowledge you have the more power you have.

You have come a long way baby. You are changing your biology as you take on these steps of recovery. Be kind to your new brain. It is becoming free of addiction and history, thanks to your choice to change.


Faulkner, C.A. (2009). Etiological theories of substance abuse: In Substance abuse counseling: Theory and practice (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2008). Substance abuse counseling. Baltimore: Author.

Prescott, C. A., Madden, P. A. F., & Stallings, M. C. (2006). Challenges in genetic studies of the etiology of substance use and substance use disorders: Introduction to the special issue. Behavior Genetics, 36(4), 473–482.

Saxon, A. J., Oreskovich, M. R., & Brkanac, Z. (2005). Genetic determinants of   addiction to opioids and cocaine. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 13(4), 218–232.