An Unhealthy Inheritance This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

June 21, 2011
By , Columbia, MD
If you were to ask my father about his childhood, he'd think about it and smile. Ask me or my mother and you'd hear a very different story. The reality is that my father was born to alcoholic and abusive parents who couldn't raise their seven children because they were too busy buying beer.

Most of the stories I hear from my dad are upsetting and disturbing. I've heard about my grandfather breaking his wife's nose in a fit of rage and drunkenness. My dad has described about being paddled and whipped with belts by his father so many times he lost count. But this is the same childhood he sometimes remembers with a smile.

I've struggled with the reality that I never knew my grandparents; they both died in their early forties from alcohol-related diseases. It's even hard to call them my grandparents. I usually just say, “my dad's dad” or something to that effect. But nevertheless, they were my grandparents. Accepting this fact brought other ­realizations to mind. Am I at risk for ­alcoholism? Or becoming an addict?

This year, I took a class in school where I researched a topic for the year. After a lot of thought, I decided to study addiction and the science behind it. My research over the past nine months taught me a lot about my father, my grandparents, and myself. Most importantly, I realize that those who need to learn about addiction the most are my peers – teenagers.

One in ten Americans suffers from addiction. When I first discovered that statistic, I was blown away. I hadn't realized how many are stuck in this destructive cycle. I also learned that addiction is a disease of the brain. When we abuse drugs, alcohol – even food – our bodies become accustomed to it. Over time, our brain tells our body that we need it.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, says that the brains of addicts “have been modified by the drug in such a way that absence of the drug makes a signal to their brain that is equivalent to the signal of when you are starving.” My grandparents, like so many others, were starving to feed their addiction. Am I destined to become just as starved?

The medical community has found some links between addiction and genetics, but these links don't apply to everyone. Some with grandparents or parents who are addicts can try drugs, including alcohol, and not become addicted. Personally, I have decided not to try alcohol or other drugs because I want to keep my body healthy. If addiction is in my genes, I will not fall into that trap.

I think about my grandparents a lot and about their struggle with their disease. My purpose in researching drugs including alcohol was to educate myself, but now I know that others need to know too. I hope my words will make you think about making healthier decisions too.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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