The relationship between addiction and genetics

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When considering whether or not people with addictions  are genetically predisposed to be susceptible to such behaviors, it is crucial also to consider whether or not addiction is a disease. According to Addictions And Recovery.org, the short answer is: Yes. This organization classifies addictions in the same category as heart disease, certain types of cancer and adult-onset diabetes. In the cases of the latter three diseases, lifestyle is a contributory factor in their development. The same can be said about addiction.

Addiction  creates drug-dependent neural pathways in the brain. Such “rewiring” is damaging and addicted people must learn coping strategies to prevent relapse. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, most drug users are seeking the “pleasure effect” of dopamine when they abuse drugs. The “rewiring” of the brain is actually its response to getting large amounts of dopamine from the drug use. Eventually, the brain produces less dopamine and an addicted person craves more of the drug in an attempt to raise dopamine levels.

Addiction is an age old disease

At the core of the general human propensity for addiction is our collective taste in what we eat. A million or so years ago, early humans developed a taste for certain foods. Those who chose the most nutritious food succeeded in propagating while those who chose less nutritious food did not succeed. Addictive behavior is an echo of this preference. Unfortunately, people in the 21st century have almost all of their needs met by society, so the brain’s desire for pleasure sometimes drives a person  to try and/or abuse something addictive.

Why addiction is partly genetic

Addiction, like heart disease, can be passed along in families.   According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence,  twins who grow up in separate households show the same predisposition to addiction and addictive behaviors. A specific addiction genehas not been discovered. Predisposition to disease or mental illness stems from a combination of genetic, environmental, and biological factors. In a study regarding addiction, L. Bevilacqua and D. Goldman, both of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, noted:

“Addictions are chronic relapsing psychiatric disorders characterized by the compulsive and decontrolled use of a drug or activity, with maladaptive and destructive outcomes.”

All is not lost

Despite the fact that about 50 percent of the underlying cause of addiction and addictive behavior is genetic, there is hope.  People with a prominent A1 allele (a gene mutation) of the dopamine receptor gene DRD2 will use cocaine more often that those who don’t have the predominant allele.  The lack of certain serotonin receptors makes people more susceptible to heroin or cocaine use.  However, Dr. Glen Hanson sums it up as follows : “Just because you are prone to addiction doesn’t mean you’re going to become addicted. It just means you’ve got to be careful.” Remember, the other 50 percent of addiction is due to environmental causes, which means a person has control . For example, avoiding old hangouts where drugs were available in the past improves the chance of remaining sober. Identifying and avoiding triggers is a large part of the recovery process.

There is also encouraging research taking place in Utah that shows some genes contribute to addiction, and some genes may help control or even eradicate it from drug users.. As scientists discover each new link between certain genes and addiction, they can use the information  to create new drugs and other treatment options to help control any addiction associated with that gene.

 

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