In the incipient Vanity Fair cover story, Robert Downey Jr. speaks about his struggles with drugs and his concern that he may have passed on an addictive personality to his son (his oldest child, Indio, was apprehended for cocaine possession this summer and recently entered a guilty plea). The actor’s remarks raise the question: Is addiction genuinely genetic? To determine if you can, in fact, inherit a drug or alcohol dilemma, we spoke with Akikur Mohamad, M.D., a nationally-acknowledged addiction expert and forerunner of Inspire Malibu, a Los Angeles treatment center.
“Pick a dysfunction and it’s a family issue,” the Iron Man star told Vanity Fair. It’s not an unlikely theory. According to Dr. Mohamad, sons who have alcoholic dads are nine times more likely to develop drinking problems than those who do not have alcoholic fathers. Dr. Mohamad continues to state that babies of alcoholics adopted into non-drinking families have roughly the same chances of alcohol addiction as they would if they had never left their birth parents.
Robert Downey Jr. has talked unabashedly about how his father (executive Robert Downey) introduced drugs to him when he was very young, once telling People that this shared activity was how his father expressed his love. This is a very bad idea, experts in treatment addiction say. When children use drugs or alcohol at an early age, they have a higher chance of having permanent brain damage—because their brains are still developing. And by partying with a young child and introducing them to drugs or alcohol gives the impression that abusing both is a good idea.
Nurture and nature play a significant part in drug use. Dr. Mohamad has said that the environment a person is in might jumpstart the genetic part of addiction. An alcoholic cannot simply pass by a bar without that simple passage resulting in stimulation from the brain that craves alcohol. He goes on to point out that Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was clean and sober for over 20 years, snorted heroin months prior to his death.
Dr. Mohamad continues to state that the majority of people who take a single drink or even shoot heroin once will not become addicts. In fact, only 10% of the population has a real addiction. Unfortunately, if there is a family history of addiction, it’s very important to make crucial life changes. Two of them might be: avoiding people who continuously encourage the addiction and getting help from a counselor or a treatment addiction for any psychological disorders that might result in ‘self-medication’ with drugs or alcohol. Take a page from Robert Downey, Jr.—the cycle can be broken, but it is a continual fight.