Science has peeled back the layers of substance abuse disorders to a significant degree in the past few decades, providing ample insight into the mechanisms of chemical dependency and the biology of addiction. One question persists, however, and some might call it the question: Why do some people become addicted more easily than others?
There’s plenty of speculation on the respective roles of nature and nurture when it comes to addiction and substance abuse issues. To the best of our knowledge, both one’s genetic background and one’s early environment are extremely important factors. This makes it all the more difficult to determine why some people can sustain a lifelong habit of moderate drinking, for example, while others find themselves dependent on alcohol.
The Genetic Component
What if there were an identifiable genetic component? Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that genetic research is a wide-open field with substantial funding, there have been relatively few studies ambitious enough to focus on the link between addiction and genetics.
However, one of those studies has recently shed bright light on that relationship, having uncovered a genetic mutation that increases the risk of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. The study was authored by William Lovallo of the University of Oklahoma’s Health Sciences Center, and published in what is widely considered the premier journal for alcohol abuse studies: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
What Lovallo discovered was a link between risk of addiction and a small mutation within a gene known to researchers as COMT. According to Lovallo, people with this mutation are more vulnerable to long-lasting, adverse effects of childhood trauma and stress. As a result, many with this mutation start down a path of alcohol and illicit drug use before they turn 15 — which is known to be a prominent predictor of dependency later in life.
A Problem of Epic Proportions
“Early-life adversity doesn’t make everyone an alcoholic,” Lovallo clarified. “But this study showed that people with this genetic mutation are going to have a higher risk for addiction when they had a stressful life growing up.”
To say addiction is a huge problem worldwide is an understatement of epic proportions. The yearly cost of addiction treatment in the U.S. alone is roughly $30 billion and counting, not to mention its cost in terms of human misery.
Any advance in our collective understanding of it, therefore — anything that could lead to negation of its effects, or even just slow down impact on society as a whole — can be considered a giant win. Lovallo’s discovery is promising because our grasp on genetic science as a whole is rapidly improving, and with that progress will hopefully come breakthroughs that could transform the lives of those working through the desperation of addiction, as well as their loved ones. Reclaiming sobriety means reclaiming life.
If you or a loved one are suffering from the devastating effects of addiction, call Sober Nation’s 24/7 toll-free hotline today at: (866) 658-3750