Could Epigenetics Account for Genetic Link in Addiction

Many of us were saddened to read recent news stories of Indio Downey, the son of A-list actor Robert Downey Jr, and his battle with drug addiction. To his credit, Indio’s father said he was committed to helping his son overcome his problems. He also stated that addiction is genetic and that Indio had inherited the addiction gene.

To some, Downey Jr crossed the line by implying that addiction is a genetic disease over which one has no control. To others, his words were spot on. The interesting thing is that science has proven that drug and alcohol addicts suffer from a genetic abnormality. The question is, does the genetic abnormality cause the addiction, or does the use of addictive substances cause the genetic abnormality? The key to finding the answer could be the science of epigenetics.

Epigenetics Explained

As a science, epigenetics explores a certain portion of the DNA strand that operates outside of what we currently know about the human genome (‘epi’ means ‘above’ or ‘outside’). It turns out that this portion of DNA, which comprises about 70% of the total strand, can be altered by various environmental factors without actually changing the structure of the DNA.

Epigenetic researchers say that individual genes within this 70% area can be turned on or off by various factors. Assuming this to be true, it is easy to make the case that the alcoholic inherits a specific gene from one of his or her parents – a gene that is switched on when the individual takes his or her first drink. Without that first drink, the gene might have been left alone. By the same token, epigenetics suggests that a ‘switched on’ addiction gene could be switched back off with the counteracting influence.

Because epigenetics have not been applied to the drug addiction question to any length, all of this is speculation right now. However, studying the human genome from this perspective could yield some interesting results in the future. It could end the argument over whether or not addiction is a disease by the mere fact that turning certain genes on and off could be a solution for those at risk.

Rehab and Therapy

Genetic research into addiction will continue for years to come. We hope that that research will yield answers to some of our most pressing questions. In the meantime, the best option for anyone suffering from substance or behavioural addiction is to undergo rehab and therapy. Treatment options are available throughout the UK by way of private rehab clinics, the NHS, alcohol and drug charities, private counsellors and support groups.

Here at Addiction Helper, we specialise in providing basic counselling and referral services to those in need of drug or alcohol rehab. We make it our business to always know what services are available throughout the UK. When a client calls our addiction recovery helpline, we walk them through their current circumstances in order to help them settle on the best course of action. More often than not, the client is referred to a private rehab clinic.

Whether or not epigenetics can explain the link between addiction and certain inherited genes is unsure for now. The picture should become a bit clearer over the next several years. For the time being, we encourage anyone suffering from substance abuse or addiction to get help right away. Whether addiction is a genetic problem or not, it is one that ruins lives with impunity. Please do not wait any longer. Get in touch with us at Addiction Helper so that we can get you on the road to recovery.



  1. Belfast Telegraph –
  2. Recovery Today –
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