According to most studies, alcohol abuse disorder is commonly linked to genetics, especially among first-degree relatives (Parents, children, and siblings). Substance abuse, including prescription medications and illicit substances, are no different. It not uncommon to hear about individuals being fearful of taking pain medication in the emergency room because their mom or dad was addicted to heroin or another form of opioids. Research and studies have shown that genetics and family history are the highest risk factors for alcohol use disorder; in fact, genetic risk is about half of the problem, while family history is the other half. Genetics are inherently passed down through generations, but family history also includes the environment in which an individual is raised. The science is clear: genetics play role in the development of alcohol or drug disorders, and if you have any family members who currently have or have had alcohol or drug problems, you are likely to be at higher risk for addiction. Additionally, some genes may make it more difficult for an individual to quit once they have started using. While an individual cannot change his or her genetic background, it is possible to take steps to safeguard one’s health if alcohol abuse or substance abuse runs in your family.

Research your family history

Family heritage and genetic testing are becoming more and more common these days, primarily as a way to learn the specifics of your cultural background. It is just as essential to inquire about your family history to find out if your family has had a long history of substance or alcohol abuse. First generational family members such as parents, children, and siblings carry the highest risks for inheriting a substance or alcohol disorder from each other. Therefore it is imperative to inquire from your parents whether alcoholism or substance abuse runs in the family, so you have an idea of whether you are at a higher risk for alcohol or substance abuse. Some individuals, particularly older generations, may be reluctant to share such private information due to the stigma associated with this topic. Be honest with your relatives and tell them that you are gathering this information to safeguard your health.

Notify your healthcare providers about your family history

Whether you are in the emergency room for a broken foot or have an appointment with your primary care physician for an annual screening exam; it is, to be honest about your family history in regards to alcohol and substance abuse. Your healthcare provider should be aware of any high-risk addiction that runs in your family in case you are in need of pain medication, as there are many alternatives to opioids. However, there will be some circumstances in which opioids are necessary such as for surgery, but your physician can consult with pain and/or addiction specialist to management these painkillers with extreme caution.

Disclose your family history to a potential partner and your offspring

It is equally important to communicate your genetic history in regards to substance abuse and alcoholism as it is to inquire about your past family history. Withholding such vital information from a life partner can be detrimental to your relationship and can result in trust issues. Your romantic partner deserves to know who you are, and will accept you if you are indeed a fit with one another. Educating your children about substance abuse, alcoholism, and sharing with them about your personal history is an essential step in parenting. Ten years of age is an excellent time to have such a discussion. Waiting to have such a discussion until the child is in high school may be too late. Your pediatrician may offer helpful recommendations on how you can communicate this subject with your child, as it is essential to keep an open dialogue about these topics with your offspring.