Behavioral Health: Can Substance Use Patterns Be Passed Down to Your Children?

Science has shown us that substance use patterns tend to run throughout families. A substance use disorder (SUD) is a health condition that can mentally, physically and emotionally affect an individual. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an annual average of 8.7 million children ages 17 or younger live in households (in the United States) with at least one parent who has a substance use disorder. Furthermore, children who have a parent with a substance use disorder and behavioral health struggles are more likely to develop substance use disorder themselves.

There is a combination of complex genetic and environmental factors that predispose someone to develop a substance use disorder. Continue reading to learn more. 

Genetics Are Connected to Substance Use Disorders

Substance use disorders frequently affect different family members throughout multiple generations, but why? Researchers have discovered that approximately 50 percent of the risk of substance use or dependence in adolescence is influenced by genetics. There is no specific gene tied to substance use, but rather, there are complex groupings of genes (substance-specific, among others) that carry the behavior from generation to generation. For example, ALDH2 and ADH1B are substance-specific genes connected to alcohol use and dependence. While genes like MAOA, SLC6A4 and cOMT are tied to anxiety, impulsivity and reward. In some cases, these behavioral tendencies and their related genes can also lead to substance use disorder development. According to the National Institutes of Health, there is still much to learn about genetic risk factors, as 95 percent of genetic variances remain unaccounted for.  

Environmental Factors Can Contribute to Substance Use Disorders 

An entire family can experience the effects of a substance use disorder. Research has shown that if a child grows up in a household where a parent or guardian suffers from a substance use disorder, they have a higher chance of developing one. For example, parents with substance use disorders are less likely to manage their children’s behavior effectively, and thus, may resort to harshly disciplining their children. According to the National Institutes of Health, these traumatic and stressful experiences can lead to children developing substance use patterns themselves. Children who live in an environment where there is a substance use disorder are also more likely to develop educational problems, social problems and experience parental neglect. 

Early Prevention is Crucial

As a parent, it is crucial to realize that you have a significant impact on your children’s decision not to use drugs or other substances. Therefore, it is essential to start having conversations right away with your children about the dangers of substance use. Parents should be transparent with children about their own substance use or discuss other substance use issues within their families, rather than avoiding them or pretending like they do not exist. Ask for your children’s views and assure them that they can be honest with you. The less confused or stressed your children are, the less likely they will go down the path of substance use in the future. 

Seek Professional Help | Seneca Health Services

If you or someone you know has a substance use disorder, there is help available. Help usually comes in the form of treatment, such as therapy and rehabilitation. And if children are suffering from substance use disorders or are living with someone who is, they need to get professional help as well.

At Seneca Health Services, we provide a holistic approach to substance use and mental health treatment. Our professional staff of psychiatrists, physician extenders, psychologists, therapists, nurses, case managers and other professional staff are dedicated to improving our patients’ health. People come to us for mental health assistance for many reasons, including anxiety, behavioral problems, personal tragedy, depression, difficulty dealing with stress, substance use disorders and more. We begin each episode of treatment with an individual assessment by a qualified behavioral health clinician.  

We respect diversity and offer specialized services to address the needs of our patients. We offer medication-assisted treatment, therapy services, peer recovery, medical services and crisis services. We personalize our patients’ care so that they receive effective treatment — we listen to you and will not provide any more or any less than what you need. Seneca Health Services is always here for you, whenever you are ready.

If you need help or have questions, do not hesitate to contact the Seneca office nearest you or use the link provided here

Greenbrier County, West Virginia: (304) 497-0500

Nicholas County, West Virginia: (304) 872-2659

Pocahontas County, West Virginia: (304) 799-6865

Webster County, West Virginia: (304) 847-5425




Children Living with Parents Who Have a Substance Use Disorder

Familial Influences on Adolescent Substance Use

The Genetic Basis of Addictive Disorders

The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice

Substance Use Risk Across Three Generations: The Roles of Parent Discipline Practices and Inhibitory Control