Born to Do DrugsOvercoming a Family History of Addiction

Children born into families with a history of addiction or abuse are at increased risks for substance use disorders later in life. They must overcome genetic predispositions, familial influences and chaotic environments. The odds are stacked against them, and the statistics say most of them are destined to become addicts. But some children, despite all obstacles in their path, overcome the odds and live a life free of addiction.

She wasn’t going to make her father’s mistakes. She was never going to drink too much. The daughter of what she calls a functioning alcoholic, Marney watched her father struggle to control how much he drank throughout her adolescence.

As an adult, Marney was going to limit herself to one drink with dinner. But during the course of many years, what started as one glass of scotch with water slowly increased to a few drinks before her husband came home from work. More years passed, and the woman who wanted to avoid her father’s mistakes couldn’t begin a day without a drink.

“I was cutting out activities I had because I couldn’t get through two or three hours without having a drink. I felt chained to it. I felt like I was walking around like a zombie.”


“I realized I was starting to withdraw from life,” said Marney, who asked that her last name not be used for this story. “I was cutting out activities I had because I couldn’t get through two or three hours without having a drink. I felt chained to it. I felt like I was walking around like a zombie.”

Addiction runs in families. Children of parents who suffer from drug addiction inherit risk factors that increase their chances of abusing drugs when they grow up. These factors fall into two categories: genetics and environment.

Some people are genetically predisposed to be more susceptible to addiction. Despite the myth that addiction is a choice, science doesn’t lie. Decades of research prove drug addiction runs in families.

Family Tree of how addiction genes are passed

The family tree represents how genes that put someone at risk for addiction (purple/orange boxes) can skip generations, making it impossible to predict which children in a family will inherit them.

“It certainly does,” addiction expert Dr. Glen Hanson told “It’s complex genetics.”

Hanson is the Director of the University of Utah’s Addiction Center. He’s researched substance abuse and addiction for more than 30 years and served as the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s interim director from 2000 to 2003. He says genetics make up about 40 to 60 percent of someone’s risk for developing addiction, and the other half comes from environment.

A child who sees family members abusing drugs is likely to mimic the same behavior later in life, according to several studies. Other risk factors — like the attitudes of their peers, the neighborhood they grow up in, their exposure to traumatic events or a history of child abuse — also affect a child’s likelihood of abusing drugs and suffering addiction someday.

It’s a major problem in the United States. About 12 percent of American children — around 8.3 million kids — live with a parent who abuses alcohol or other drugs, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

It’s a problem that society has tried to ignore because most people don’t understand addiction.

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Marney didn’t. She didn’t know she might have a problem when a doctor told her she had low blood sugar in 1982. She told her doctor she drank one glass of scotch every day with dinner. He didn’t see the warning signs either, suggesting she switch to dry white wine to limit sugar intake.

Marney didn’t realize she was suffering from alcohol withdrawal when she started to feel flu-like symptoms during a family trip to Disney World later that year.

“We had the kids with us and didn’t think about drinking,” she told “That evening, I felt like I had the flu. Looking back, I realize that was my first day without alcohol in quite some time.”

Marney drank a tumbler of wine and felt better. She didn’t understand she was addicted. She didn’t know she could have inherited genes that made her more susceptible to addiction, and she didn’t know she could pass them on to her children. She didn’t know that many years later she’d watch her daughter struggle with alcoholism.

The Risk Factors for Addiction

Some children are born with so many risk factors for addiction it would seem they’re destined to become addicts. But most experts agree no combination of variables will doom a person to a life of addiction. Rather, each risk factor increases their chances of trying drugs and getting hooked.

“The one major risk factor that shows up time and time again is stress.”

Dr. Glen Hanson, University of Utah

“The one major risk factor that shows up time and time again is stress,” Dr. Hanson said. “If you’re in an environment as a child or adolescent with very high stress, regardless of what’s causing the stress, then your likelihood of turning to drugs of abuse during your life goes up substantially.”

According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, other risk factors for drug and alcohol abuse include:

  • Family history
  • Mental health disorders
  • Trauma
  • Impulse control problems

“There’s another factor that compounds the risk, and that’s the age of first use,” Emily Feinstein, the director of health law and policy at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, told “We see that teens who first smoke, drink or use drugs before the age of 15 are 6.5 times as likely to develop an addiction at some point in their lives as someone who delays their first use of an addictive substance until age 21.”

Emily Feinstein, Director of Health Law and Policy at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse

Emily Feinstein, Director of Health Law and Policy at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse

A parent’s behavior with alcohol or other drugs also significantly increases a child’s chance of abusing drugs later in life. Researchers have delved into the data and discovered surprising trends. Sons are more likely to abuse the same substances their fathers abuse, and daughters are more likely to abuse the same substances their mothers abuse, according to multiple studies.

Mental health disorders are also among the highest predictors of substance abuse.

“Mental health and substance abuse go hand in hand,” Hanson said. “It’s not surprising, because both of them are involved with the same brain chemistry, the same pathway issues. Many of the drugs of abuse, when they’re used in excess, can create conditions that look just like psychiatric disorders. You can’t tell the difference.”

Genetics of Addiction

Hundreds of studies have been conducted searching for genes that cause addiction. The field has been dominated by studies on alcohol, but a large amount of research has also been conducted on other types of drug addiction, too.

“There are probably well over 100 genes that can affect (substance use disorders) in one way or another.”

Dr. Glen Hanson, University of Utah

“There is not a single gene that predicts risk for substance use disorders,” Hanson told “There are probably well over 100 genes that can affect it in one way or another.”

Every abnormal gene someone has enhances their risk exponentially, Hanson explained.

Multiple genes associated with impulsive behavior are linked to an increased risk of drug and alcohol addiction, and a gene related to mental health disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder also increases risk.

Dr. Glen Hanson, Director of Utah's Addiction Center and Former Interim Director of NIDA

Dr. Glen Hanson, Director of Utah’s Addiction Center and Former Interim Director of NIDA

“Some of these genes are fairly predictable,” Hanson said. “They alter brain regions that we know are linked to substance use disorders, such as reward systems, motivational systems and decision-making systems.”

There are also genes that protect people from addiction. A gene mutation that makes some people experience intense nausea when they consume a very small amount of alcohol results in almost no risk for alcohol addiction. Another mutation of the gene causes the skin to flush when the person drinks alcohol, reducing the risk of addiction.

“Some genes are somewhat surprising, like genes that are involved in drug metabolism,” Hanson said. “For example, genes that affect the way tobacco is metabolized or genes that affect the way alcohol is metabolized also seem to affect risk for developing a use disorder on those substances.”

Children of Alcoholics

One of the most studied genetic traits involves a person’s “level of response” to alcohol. A 20-year study published in 2004 found children of alcoholics had a lower level of response to alcohol than other children, even though their blood alcohol levels were the same.

That means children of alcoholics were less likely to experience symptoms of intoxication — like feeling relaxed, nauseous, clumsy, etc. — when drinking. Researchers followed up with the children 10 years later and found the ones with a low level of response were more likely to have suffered alcohol addiction.

Marney didn’t become aware of her father’s drinking until she was around eight years old. It started as casual drinks on the weekend with few problems. But he began to drink regularly before dinner and at social functions.

“He couldn’t control his drinking sometimes. Sometimes he could. It was unpredictable.”


She witnessed verbal fights in her home, but things never turned physical. Her father kept drinking until he was 70 and suffered health problems. Then he was able to quit, remaining sober the final 13 years of his life.

Marney suspects alcoholism ran on her father’s side of the family because she’d heard stories about her father’s uncle’s drinking problems. Marney’s father-in-law also had drinking problems.

Long-term effects of alcoholism on the heart Long-term effects of alcoholism on the liver pancreas affected by long-term alcoholism

The long-term effects of alcoholism may not appear until old age. Alcoholism often damages the heart, liver and pancreas. It can also cause various types of cancer and weaken the immune system.

“He’d get in fights in bars and that kind of thing,” Marney said of her father-in-law. “Then he had a stroke, and he limited his drinking to one per day. He’d watch the clock until five o’clock came around. He’d have one drink at five every day.”

Children don’t inherit every gene their parents have, so alcoholism — like other diseases — can skip generations. Without scientific study, it would be impossible to determine if Marney had inherited genes that put her more at risk for alcoholism from her father or if she’d passed them on to her children.

Genetics are only half of the battle, though. A person with genes that make them vulnerable to addiction may never suffer the disease if they’re raised in an environment that condemns drug abuse.

Amplifying Effects of Genetics and Environment

When someone suffers from addiction, it’s difficult to determine if they possess a gene that makes them vulnerable, if they were raised in a risky setting or if a number of other factors contributed to their disease.

“So if you’ve got a genetic link that’s about half, 50 percent, that means that about half of it is going to come from environment,” Hanson told “With substance abuse, 50 percent tells you there’s an interplay between environment and the genes of an individual. Even if you have the genes, that doesn’t necessarily mean you develop a substance use disorder.”

“If you have an adoptive sibling — with whom you have no genetic relationship — develop drug abuse, that also doubles your risk for drug abuse.”

Dr. Kendler, Virginia Commonwealth University

In a landmark study, researchers observed the substance abuse patterns of more than 18,000 adopted children.

“For an adoptee, having a biological parent with drug abuse who did not raise you doubles your risk for drug abuse,” lead author Dr. Kenneth Kendler said in a 2012 press release. “But we also found an important role for environmental factors. If you have an adoptive sibling — with whom you have no genetic relationship — develop drug abuse, that also doubles your risk for drug abuse.”

Welfare Professionals:

child being yelled at by drug addicted father


say drug abuse causes or contributes to 50% of all cases of child maltreatment.

Child in foster care because of drug addicted parents


say children of addicted parents are more likely to enter foster care.

Young girl abused by her drug addicted father


say drug abuse is the top cause for a dramatic rise in child maltreatment in recent decades.

Marney’s children were exposed to alcohol at a young age, seeing their parents drink at dinner every night. Marney didn’t know her daughter Allison and a friend had stolen drinks from a bottle of Marney’s wine in eighth grade and soon started drinking on weekends.

“I wanted them to be careful, but they both drank,” Marney said of her children. She added that despite strict rules at home, “From the time they were teenagers, they figured out how to get alcohol.”

Marney later learned alcoholism could run in families, and she worried about her son developing the disease.

“He could drink quite a bit, through college and bachelorhood until he got married,” Marney said. “There were times that he’d admit that once he started drinking he had a hard time stopping and going home. I always thought he would be the one who ended up being the alcoholic.”

Despite a five-year age gap, Allison and her brother drank together while she was in high school, unbeknownst to their parents.

Parental influence isn’t the only environmental factor that contributes to addiction. Attitudes of friends and siblings, availability of drugs and alcohol in a community and a variety of other factors influence a child’s decision to try substances of abuse.

“If you’re in a protective environment, then that may be able to antagonize the influence of the genes and vice versa,” Hanson said. “If you’re in an environment that’s very conducive (to substance abuse) and you don’t have the genes, then you may be able to resist the environment and not have a problem with a substance use disorder.”

Child Abuse and Addiction

A dangerous environment can put children at risk for addiction, and multiple studies indicate children whose parents abuse drugs are at an increased risk for neglect and abuse.

runaway teen sitting in the park

53% of teenage runaways say problematic drinking was present at home.

“People who have suffered from a history of abuse, neglect, trauma or other harmful childhood experiences are at a much greater risk for addiction,” Feinstein told

In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Psychological Medicine, researchers determined physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and physical neglect increased the likelihood of a person developing alcoholism later in life. The findings were independent of family history and gender factors.

Children who suffer from child abuse often try to mask the emotional pain they feel with drugs and alcohol, which in turn increases their chances for addiction.

Growing Up on Marijuana

Children across the U.S. are raised in homes of people who abuse drugs and don’t think it’s a problem. A spotlight was put on the issue when college football players started failing drug tests at increasing rates.

Coaches from large universities across the country say many student-athletes enter college already having a marijuana addiction after coming from communities and families that commonly use the drug, according to a 2015 Orlando Sentinel investigation.

“Where they come from, a lot of times it’s accepted,” Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher told the Sentinel. “When they step into their house, people are smoking marijuana like you do cigarettes from the time they’re three years old until they’re 18. They do these things their whole life.”

“In today’s world, you have young parents that sometimes they may have used in the past and brought him up in an environment where they thought it was OK.”

Bret Bielema, University of Arkansas

More than a dozen coaches from universities including the University of Florida, University of Missouri, University of Georgia, and University of Central Florida spoke to the Sentinel about the number of college football players with marijuana problems on their teams.

“What are your parents going to say?” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema recalled asking a player who had tested positive for marijuana.

“And to be quite honest, the (drug) use had happened in the home,” Bielema told the Sentinel. “In today’s world, you have young parents that sometimes they may have used in the past and brought him up in an environment where they thought it was OK.”

Do Parents Influence Children’s Attitudes on Drugs?

No one said raising a child would be easy.

When it comes to teaching children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, many parents don’t know where to begin. Some rely solely on schools to provide anti-drug messages. Many hope a few brief conversations will do the trick. Other parents think talking is a waste of time because kids will be kids and there’s nothing parents can do to stop them.

“Kids who grow up watching their parents misusing drugs or alcohol learn from a very early age that a martini or a joint is the way to fix your problems in life.”

Emily Feinstein, CASAColumbia

Marney’s parents never warned her of the dangers of alcohol. About two years after her first experience with withdrawal, Marney tried to quit drinking. For six months, she was unable to quit on her own.

“I was scared,” she told “I wanted to live. I wanted to see grandchildren and that type of thing.”

When her children were 14 and 19 years old, Marney checked into a 30-day in-patient rehabilitation center.

Marney, a recovering alcoholic for 30 years

Marney has been sober for more than 30 years since recovering from alcoholism in 1985.

“I was in eighth grade when she went into treatment,” said Allison, who asked that her last name not be used in this story. “I remember her always having a glass of wine. If she went to pick us up, she would alwayshave a glass of wine in the car. I never knew she was drunk or even what that meant. When they told me she was going to go to treatment, I was really shocked.”

“I remember her always having a glass of wine. If she went to pick us up, she would always have a glass of wine in the car. I never knew she was drunk or even what that meant. When they told me she was going to go to treatment, I was really shocked.”


With the help of rehab and regular attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Marney achieved sobriety in 1985. It wasn’t easy though. Marney had to take a hard look at her life during therapy.

“I was surprised to learn about me, who I was and what I needed to change in myself so I could remain sober,” she said. “That was like a whole new idea: ‘There’s something wrong with me that’s causing some of these problems?’ ”

“I told both of my kids, ‘you don’t realize what I’m going through emotionally, trying to dig out of this deep, dark hole.’”


Marney got a sponsor in AA, and her husband began attending Al-Anon — a support group for family members of alcoholics. Recovery was challenging, and during the following decades Marney was tempted.

“There were times I wanted to drink in sobriety early on just to relieve tension and stress,” she said. “But I think I understood having one drink was not an option.

“At first it seemed hard. After a while it became almost fun. I had something to work toward in myself, some personal improvement. I really did not crave alcohol after treatment. I was so glad to have that craving, that obsession removed.”

Her daughter Allison was drinking more often, though. She experimented with drugs like acid in high school and was using ecstasy with friends often. Marney didn’t know about the drug use, but she was scared her kids would follow in her footsteps.

lighting a joint

Two of the top reasons teens report avoiding marijuana use are fears of upsetting their parents and losing respect of friends family.

“I told both of my kids, ‘you don’t realize what I’m going through emotionally, trying to dig out of this deep, dark hole,’ ” Marney told “ ‘To you it just looks like I went to treatment and quit drinking, but there’s a lot more to it.’”

The most recent national attitude tracking survey conducted by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids supported the notion that parents have a strong influence on their children’s behavior.

“Family influence is huge for kids,” Feinstein told “Parents are probably more influential than anybody in a kid’s life, and that goes both ways. Kids who grow up watching their parents misusing drugs or alcohol learn from a very early age that a martini or a joint is the way to fix your problems in life.”

Actions speak louder than words. When parents communicate anti-drug messages but don’t practice what they preach, children will usually follow their parents’ example.

The Preschooler Shopping Experiment

In 2005, investigators at Dartmouth College published the results of an experiment designed to show how young children pick up on their parents’ social behaviors. They asked 120 children ages two through six to role play a shopping trip to prepare for “an evening with friends” using a mini-grocery store in the college’s behavioral lab. The store had 73 different products including cigarettes, beer and wine.

Role-Playing Behavior of Children in the Preschooler Shopping Experiment:

two glasses of whiskey on a table


of children bought alcohol.

smoking a cigarette with an ashtray


of children bought cigarettes.

Smoking a cigarette at a bar with a beer and a lighter


of children bought both cigarettes and alcohol.

A total of 74 children (61 percent) bought alcohol and 17 (28 percent) bought cigarettes. The researchers determined children whose parents smoked were more likely to buy cigarettes and children whose parents drank at least monthly were more likely to buy alcohol.

The researchers recorded several alarming comments made by the children during the experiment:

  • A six-year-old boy offered cigarettes to a toy Barbie while saying: “Honey, have some smokes. Do you like smokes? I like smokes.”
  • A four-year-old girl pouring drinks for dolls said: “That one really likes champagne.”
  • After serving birthday cake and wine to dolls, a five-year-old girl said: “Now we are going to smoke.”

The scholars concluded preschool children are able to recognize the roles alcohol and tobacco play in adult social behavior. The good news was some children listened to anti-drug messages. In one example, a six-year-old boy wouldn’t buy cigarettes, saying: “I’m definitely not going to buy those. They can kill you.”

That’s inspiring for parents who hope anti-drug messages sink in, but the way parents communicate the risks of drugs can drastically affect a child’s perceptions of risks.

Parents Who Use Themselves as Examples for Avoiding Drugs

Almost every anti-drug or alcohol organization targets parents, telling them they’re the biggest influence on their child’s decision to try drugs. Research backs up the idea that parents can prevent their kids from trying drugs if they communicate effectively.

“All the time, high school students tell us that the main reason their peers don’t drink or use drugs is because parents would disapprove,” Feinstein told

Parents must send clear anti-drug messages to their children

It’s important for parents to send clear anti-drug messages. In a national survey, 32 percent of teens said their parents would let them drink a beer, but only four percent of parents corroborated the statement.

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Human Communication Research raised red flags to parents who try to relate to their children by revealing their own past drug abuse.

Researchers surveyed 561 middle school students and found children who knew of a parent’s past drug abuse were more likely to have weak anti-drug attitudes. Children of parents who delivered strong anti-drug messages without revealing their own history of drug abuse were more likely to have strong anti-drug attitudes.

“Modeling behavior is really important because your kids are going to be as or more affected by what they see you do as what they hear you say,” Feinstein said. “So you can’t give them the right messages on one hand and display inappropriate behavior on the other.”

Other parents subscribe to the idea that kids are going to do drugs, and they’d rather supervise that experience than have their kids do drugs alone with friends.

Sending Mixed Messages

Mixed messages surround youth. Children hear different messages from family members, peers and community members. They attend schools where drugs are against the rules but are often easily available.

“The more kids are exposed to these influences, the more likely they are to start (using drugs) and the greater the amount that they use.”

Emily Feinstein, CASAColumbia

“Adolescents are really vulnerable to media influence, even subtle influences that we see from ads, magazines, music, TV shows and movies,” Feinstein said. “We’ve seen that the more kids are exposed to these influences, the more likely they are to start (using drugs) and the greater the amount that they use.”

Parents who allow their children to drink at home add to that list of mixed messages. Studies show children whose parents give them alcohol suffer more adverse consequences related to drugs, and children who drink at home are more likely to drink away from home.

With so many messages glamorizing drug use in society, parents should do their best to only communicate and exhibit anti-drug messages.

No example of sending mixed message is more dramatic than one found in the home of one of the entertainment industry’s most infamous drug abusers

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‘It’s Somebody Else’s Kids, Not Your Own’

Few would coin rocker Ozzy Osbourne as the ideal father figure, and the revelations of Jack and Kelly Osbourne’s battles with addiction probably didn’t surprise many. But they shocked Ozzy. He thought his children would learn from his mistakes and avoid drugs.

“We were in denial,” Ozzy has said of both of his children’s battles with addiction. “You always want to think it’s somebody else’s kids, not your own.”

But his children were able to conceal their addictions from their parents.

Osbourne family talks about their struggles with drug addiction

Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne admitted to being in denial about their children’s struggles with addiction.

“There was the Jack Osbourne my parents knew, the Jack Osbourne my friends knew and the Jack Osbourne that the public knew,” Jack told MTV. “The one my parents knew was the funny, facetious, nice, loving son who’s truly caring. To my friends I was a crazy, insane, drinking, using party animal who knew how to have a good time.”

Influenced by parents who had made past mistakes with drugs, pressured by media and misled by an environment that gave them easy access to drugs, the Osbourne children possessed several risk factors for addiction. But some children born into similarly difficult circumstances resist temptation and never succumb to drug abuse.

‘Resilient’ Survivors Overcome Family History of Addiction

Every year, researchers learn more about addiction and the influence of family history on a person. Studies continue to advance knowledge of genetic traits and environmental factors, but they always end with a similar acknowledgment.

No one is destined to be a drug addict. No matter how many genetic traits or other risk factors a group of people has in common, a number of people always resist addiction.

“Not all individuals who experience maltreatments develop alcohol dependence.”

Journal of Psychological Medicine

Scholars and experts often call these people “resilient individuals.”

“Certain individuals may be more competent in adapting to stressful living environments than are others,” wrote authors Jeanette Johnson and Michelle Leff in a study of children of addicts published in The Journal of Pediatrics. “Such a child is able to compensate for and cope with the various negative biologic or environmental influences in his/her life.”

Some experts argue that such children have resilient characteristics, like their natural behavior during work, play and in romantic relationships. They also possess unique abilities for self-discipline, self-esteem and abstract thinking.

Scan of an alcoholic's brain versus a non-alcoholic's brain

Drugs Change the Brain

The brain adapts to long-term drug and alcohol abuse, causing drastic changes in brain chemistry.

Even children raised in some of the worst environments avoid drug and alcohol abuse.

“Despite the evidence for the role of sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and physical neglect in the development of adult alcohol dependence, not all individuals who experience these maltreatments develop alcohol dependence,” wrote the authors of a 2013 child-abuse study published in Psychological Medicine.

What causes resiliency is still unknown. Genetics may have something to do with it.

In a 2008 study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, researchers discovered differences in the ways the brains of resilient children of alcoholics responded to stimuli compared to the brains of vulnerable children of alcoholics.

Seemingly small differences in a child’s environment could also contribute to resiliency. A school teacher or other role model might inspire a child to avoid drugs and alcohol. A role model made all of the difference in the life of comedian Kevin Hart, whose dad abused drugs throughout the majority of his childhood.

Raised by a Drug-Addicted Father, Protected by a Courageous Mother

In January, actor and comedian Kevin Hart revealed the impact his father’s drug addiction had on his childhood on the Howard Stern show.

“He was a professional (drug addict),” Hart told Stern. “He did what he had to do to get what he needed.”

In one sorrowful memory, Hart recounted how his dad stole money — a gift of $20 — from him on his birthday to support his addiction. Moments like that were common during the comedian’s youth.

“From ages two to eight, my dad did what he could before his addiction got out of hand. … (He was into) heroin, cocaine, crack, you name it.”

Kevin Hart, Comedian

But Hart overcame the challenges in his life because his mother was very strict, made sure he focused on school and kept him off the streets. Her influence has helped him remain positive about his childhood.

Kevin Hart opens up about his father's addiction

Kevin Hart credits his mother with helping him avoid following his father’s path to drug addiction.

“Things happen for a reason,” Hart said. “If my dad had been around and didn’t do drugs, I may be handling my success differently. I may be on drugs.”

Hart claims he’s never experimented with drugs in his life, with the exception of trying marijuana.

“For what?” Hart replied when asked if he’d ever tried drugs. “I’ve seen what it does.”

Hart’s story has a happy ending. He’s experienced enormous success, and he and his brother helped his father overcome addiction.

“Me and my brother, we put him in rehab,” Hart said. “(We) put him in rehab. He met an amazing woman that turned his life around, that helped him stay clean. Right now, he’s all about clean living.”

Thanks to the positive influence of his mother, Hart, his brother and his father currently lives free of addiction.

Fighting for Recovery

Marney tried to be a positive influence on her children. She and her husband tried to implement strict rules at home, but both of their children drank anyway. When Marney’s son grew older and started a family, his drinking decreased. Allison wasn’t able to stop as easily.

“I drank because I was not happy. She drank because: party, party. She’s an extrovert, loved to party and loved to be with people.”


“Her story is totally different from mine,” Marney said. “I drank because I was not happy. She drank because: party, party. She’s an extrovert, loved to party and loved to be with people.”

It wasn’t until Allison was 19 and told her brother she was using ecstasy regularly that Marney learned of the extent of her children’s behavior.

“That’s when he freaked out and told my mom and dad,” Allison told “They sent me to a psychiatrist. I took some personality tests, and he ended up telling my parents that it was just a social thing. I wasn’t addicted.”

He missed the warning signs. Allison would go on to drink socially throughout college and early adulthood. She used ecstasy and cocaine off and on during her late 20s and 30s. She was also prescribed Ambien to help her sleep, but she began abusing the drug later in life.

Alcoholism in the U.S.:

Alcoholic woman with a bottle of liquor staring at a glass of whisky

17.6 million

Estimated number of people suffering from alcoholism.

alcoholics anonymous members in a meeting

1.2 million

Estimated members of Alcoholics Anonymous.

prescription drugs, alcohol, cocaine, and illicit drugs on a table


Estimated number of people receiving treatment for alcohol or alcohol in combination with another drug every day.

She went through phases where she tried to sober up, attending detox centers and support-group meetings but never admitting she had a problem.

“I didn’t have a handle on what was going on in her life,” Marney said after her daughter moved out. “She always appeared OK when I’d see her, but I knew she was drinking a lot.”

It wasn’t until a family wedding in the late 2000s that Marney saw the extent of the problem.

“I was shocked by my daughter’s appearance,” Marney said. “It hit me like a ton of bricks … I tried to talk to her. I told her ‘you need to quit drinking.’… She finally did try. She called me one day and she said ‘I need to quit drinking.’ I thought, oh, thank God.”

Allison was drinking two bottles of wine every day and was having trouble finding and keeping a job because of her addiction. In her late 30s, she sought treatment again and made a renewed effort to attend AA meetings.

Don’t Give Up. ‘Just Keep Trying.’

Allison moved home to live with her mom, attended AA and tried an in-patient treatment center for 30 days. She’d remain sober for weeks and then relapse. Then in October 2014, she made a decision.

“I kept looking back at my history and my pattern and realizing I was an alcoholic. I didn’t want to admit it. I didn’t want to believe it.”


“I finally decided to make it my number one priority,” Allison said. “I made a commitment to myself to give myself a year and see what happens. I kept looking back at my history and my pattern and realizing I was an alcoholic. I didn’t want to admit it. I didn’t want to believe it.”

She said she developed a spiritual relationship with a higher power which she calls God. That helped her see life differently.

“She just went to meetings, meetings, meetings,” Marney said. “She’d sober up with her boyfriend. He’d help her through it, and they’d go to meetings. Now, she’s a happy person again.”

Allison began a new job that she finds enjoyment in. Her relationships and health improved.

“I realize that now I’m happier with this life, without drinking. Everything in my life has improved. My anxiety and fears diminished. … My outlook on life has changed dramatically for the better, and I have a more positive attitude and purpose for life.”


Most people don’t recover from addiction after one 30-day stint in rehab like Marney did in 1985. It takes time and hard work.

“Just keep trying,” Marney says. “Keep coming back (to meetings). In my daughter’s case, and a lot of other people I see that keep slipping, sometimes it takes years. They keep trying, and finally something clicks.”

Despite All Odds, Be Resilient

Even with an abundance of research saying a parent’s drug use affects child development and later substance abuse behavior, many researchers claim it is impossible to predict when a child will inherit a substance use disorder. No one is destined to become an addict.

Wife taking a liquor bottle away from her alcoholic husband

No one is destined to be an addict.

“Everyone can avoid it,” Hanson said. “But it may take some management.”

Feinstein agrees that there’s always hope.

“I think it’s really important for families who have a history of addiction to talk to their kids about it like it’s any other disease,” Feinstein said. “Try to erase the stigma and educate their kids that they’re at a greater risk and it’s much more important that that child not smoke, drink or use drugs — certainly not until their brain is developed.”

Even if someone succumbs to addiction, they can recover. Research indicates people can recover if they are presented with opportunities in life, receive support from friends and family and build a connection with society.

“Say to them, I love you whether you’re using or you’re not,” journalist Johann Hari said at a 2015 Ted Talk about addiction. “I love you whatever state you’re in, and if you need me I’ll come and sit with you because I love you and I don’t want you to be alone or to feel alone.”

Journalist Johann Hari spoke about changing the way we treat addicts in a 2015 Ted Talk.

If you have a family history of addiction to drugs including alcohol, you can be one of the resilient individuals by making a conscience effort to:

  • Avoid using drugs or alcohol as a child or teenager.
  • Avoid situations where drug and alcohol abuse will be present.
  • If you decide to drink as an adult, drink in moderation.
  • Talk to a health professional about your risk for addiction.

Parents who know they have a family history of addiction can decrease their child’s risk for addiction by taking several actions:

  • Set an example by avoiding alcohol or drug use in front of children.
  • Communicate strong, clear messages about the dangers of alcohol and drug use.
  • Keep alcohol and drugs away from the home.
  • Learn about their friends and their attitudes on drugs.
  • Talk to the parents of their friends about anti-drug messages.
  • Chaperone or supervise social functions to ensure drugs are not present.
  • Introduce them to healthy activities and hobbies.

Limiting exposure to traumatic, dangerous and stressful situations is also key.

“If there’s some way to get in there and either diminish the stress exposure that an individual is going through or help them build stress management skills, then you have already pushed them down the path away from substance use in a major, major way,” Hanson said.

No one is destined for addiction. Everyone controls their own life. It takes more work for some people than others, but addiction is a preventable and curable disease. The temptation may never go away, and it won’t always be easy. But everyone can control their own fate if they just keep trying.

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Chris Elkins, MA
Senior Content Writer,
Chris Elkins worked as a journalist for three years and was published by multiple newspapers and online publications. Since 2015, he’s written about health-related topics, interviewed addiction experts and authored stories of recovery. Chris has a master’s degree in strategic communication and a graduate certificate in health communication.

Last updated on: November 16, 2022

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