Is Addiction Inherited?

Robert Downey Jr. has been in the news recently, not because of Iron Man or his past drug problems, but because of his son – 20-year-old Indigo – who is reportedly in rehab.

Robert Downey Jr. had a very public battle with addiction when he was in and out of jails and institutions while trying to salvage his career. People watched as the extremely talented actor struggled with addiction to heroin, alcohol and cocaine and now praise him as a hero – not only because he is Iron Man, but for having overcome his powerful addiction to drugs and alcohol – he has been sober since 2003.

His son apparently went to treatment for trouble with prescription pills. His mother – Downey’s ex wife Deborah Falconer reportedly said, “He was never addicted. He was taking one pill a day” and now  “He’s doing great. He’ll be back playing music and going better soon.”

Indigo, who plays in a band called The Seems (who just got a record deal with Warner Brothers) seems to have inherited creativity from his father, is it possible he inherited addictive tendencies as well? Robert Downey said that he was influenced by his own father’s drug use and began using marijuana at 6 years old after seeing his dad use it.

In the field of addiction treatment there are arguments for both nature and nurture when determining whether or not addiction can be inherited. To date, there is not one specific “addiction gene” but biological characteristics that make people either more or less vulnerable to addictive substances. For example, genes play a role in people having difficulty quitting once they start or experiencing greater withdrawal symptoms from substances once they stop. But scientists say that someone’s genetic makeup will not inevitably doom them to a life of addiction.

What do you think? Is it nurture or nature that puts one at greater risk for addiction?