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New Evidence That Genetics Plays a Role in Addiction

Adopted kids whose biological parents are substance users are twice as likely to develop their own problems.

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By Valerie Tejeda

03/06/12

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Both genetics and environment play an important role in whether or not an adopted child will have substance abuse problems, according to a new study—which obviously has wider-reaching ramifications. Researchers in Sweden surveyed over 18,000 adopted kids, and found that those whose biological parents struggled with substance abuse were twice as likely to have such problems themselves. The risk was also heightened significantly for those children whose adoptive families had alcohol problems. The findings clearly indicate that both biological and environmental factors play an important role in determining whether people develop substance abuse problems. "For someone at low genetic risk, being in a bad environment conveys only a modestly increased risk of drug abuse," says Dr. Kenneth S. Kendler, professor of psychiatry and human genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, the study's lead author. "But if you are at high genetic risk, this can put your risk for drug abuse much higher." Dr. Lukshmi Puttanniah, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, who wasn't involved with the study, has a slightly different take: "A child who is adopted, just like a child who is biological, does carry a certain genetic risk,” he says. “But this shows that the environment they're being raised in and how their genetic risk interacts with that is probably much more important for the potential development of any disease, including substance abuse and dependence.” Both adoptive and biological parents can minimize the risk of their kids turning to drugs by providing a secure home environment, with minimal exposure to substances.

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