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Is Abuse In Teenagers Genetic?



Every teenager is different and will have or lack various predispositions that can contribute to his or her substance abusing behaviors. Johns Hopkins Medicine asserts, “substance abuse is the medical term used to describe a pattern of using a substance (drug) that causes significant problems or distress.” Habitual use of any substance can lead to increased tolerance, meaning an individual will require more of the substance (e.g. stronger potency, frequency of use, etc.) to achieve the same feeling. Frequent abuse of any foreign substance will result in physiological changes in one’s body. When a young person constantly reintroduces foreign substances into his or her body, it must make accommodations to properly function with the presence of the substance. When a substance that one’s body has become accustomed to functioning with is absent, or has less of the substance in his or her system, it will react and be unable to function optimally. The short answer as to whether or not substance abuse in teenagers is genetic is: no, substance abuse in teenagers cannot be entirely attributed to or based on genetics. 

Nature vs. Nurture

There has yet to be a clear, indisputable, solitary reason explaining why a teenager abuses drugs and/ or alcohol. There are, however, several contributing factors that do play into one’s potential for developing substance use disorder. According to research these factors include:

  • Development: Development is a crucial component to any individual’s growth. When drugs and/ or alcohol is introduced at a young age, the effect the substance or substances have on his or her brain can stunt development, and ultimately alter how he or she develops. The earlier an individual uses drugs and/ or alcohol, the more apt he or she is to develop an addiction in the future. 
  • Biology: Studies have indicated that there is a genetic factor in relation to the development of addiction. Therefore, due to one’s genes and DNA makeup some people are predisposed to addiction more than others. It has also been noted that one’s gender, ethnicity, and both personal and family history of the presence of other mental disorders can contribute to one’s susceptibility for developing an addiction. 
  • Environment: Exposure to drugs and/ or alcohol at a young age, in one’s environment can desensitize an individual to the potential dangers of engaging in its use. Influences such as economic status, presence and support of family and friends, parental guidance, and one’s general quality of life can all play into the development of an individual’s addiction. Certain situational experiences can also affect one’s choice to engage in drug use and play a part in developing an addiction. For example, experiencing a traumatic event (e.g. rape, peer pressure, physical abuse, etc.) can greatly affect an individual’s likelihood of turning to drugs and developing an addiction. 

The more of the above risk factors a young person has, the greater his or her chances are for developing an addiction. Regardless of the prospective reasoning behind the development of addiction, it is ultimately caused by repeated and habitual misuse and abuse of drugs and/ or alcohol. 

For Information and Support

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769. You can also contact us via email at

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