Addiction and Genetics

Addiction and Genetics

Is Drug/Alcohol Addiction Learned or Genetic Behavior?

Why is it that some people are affected by addiction and others are not? Scientific research conducted on families including siblings, twins and adoptees reveal that nearly 50 percent of the risk for a person to get addicted to drugs, alcohol or nicotine is dependent on their genetic makeup. Hence, studying the biological fundamental associated with the risk is a critical aspect of research aimed at finding a solution for drug and other substance addictions

Genes can be defined as the functional DNA units which comprise the genome. It is the genes that provide data which directs the key cellular activities of your body. Medical research suggests that on an average, there might be a 99.9 percent similarity between the DNA series of two different individuals. But the seemingly minor 0.1% variation is extremely critical because it still indicates three million differences in almost three billion DNA sequence base pairs. And these differences may lead to noticeable variations such as hair color and height as well as invisible characteristics like increased risk of specific diseases like heart attack, diabetes or addiction.

Physiology or Psychology?

Drug and alcohol addictions are classified as chronic diseases (linked to the brain), much like diabetes or asthma. And these chronic diseases have a powerful genetic component. Few doctors who have done an extensive study on addiction and its causes inform that boys with alcoholic fathers may be 9 times more vulnerable to developing an addiction problem as compared to the average population. Similarly, when children or babies of alcoholics are adopted into homes that do not have a problem with alcohol, the odds of developing addiction remain pretty much the same.

The debate on ‘nature versus nurture’ tries to examine which factor plays a larger role in shaping the life of an individual: natural physiology or developmental psychology. Research suggests that the health of a person is dependent on active interactions between the environment and genes. For instance, both lifestyle and genetic factors, like diet, stress and physical activity, could have an impact on the risk of developing high blood pressure. Parallel research suggests that an individual’s environment could specifically affect drug use. Environmental factors may include the manner in which an individual was brought up by his/her parents or guardians, peer group, work situation, socioeconomic status and several other similar factors.

Contradictions in Research

Even though there is enough research from the past to suggest that genes can predispose a person to become addicted, modern inquiries reveal that inheriting diseases like drug addiction cannot be due to one gene alone. In other words, the transmittance of the disease is a lot more complicated. Scientists suggest that the genes used in alcohol metabolism, for instance, play a crucial role in increased addiction risk. Similarly, results of a key study show that younger men who needed larger quantities of alcohol or drugs to experience the desired effects had to face greater addiction problems in their life.

Hence, it is a combination of environmental and genetic factors that determine an individual’s susceptibility to addiction. Yet genes could put you at a higher risk of developing a problem.

Treating Addiction acquired from the Environment

In cases where the environment plays a more critical role in causing drug/alcohol addiction than genes, the ideal way to treat the issue would environmental regulation. Majority of the governments have regulation on the consumption and sale of alcohol and permitted drugs. This in turn helps regulate the environment in a community. Choosing different peer groups, those which are not involved in heavy drinking or drug abuse is another way to monitor the external environment.

For both genetic and environment caused addictions, rehabilitation centers and related programs and interventions could play a significant role in healthy recovery.