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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

03-24-14 | By

Is Addiction Genetic? The Hunt for the Addiction Gene

Is Addiction Genetic?

The study of addiction has experienced many advances over the past few decades.

Within that time frame, addiction professionals and others in the health field have come to understand addiction as a complex and multi-faceted disease.

Within these professional frameworks, we now understand that the underlying roots of the disease of addiction are not only physical, emotional and psychological, but they also have environmental and familial roots. With these new understandings, it has created new understandings and dialogue about the disease of addiction and has given rise to new ways to treat this disease.

Advances in the Study of Addiction Raises Questions

While these new conceptual frameworks have led to many advances in the way we view and treat addiction, there also have been many questions that have been the source of intense debate. One question has yet to be answer… is addiction genetic?

The question of genetics and the role it plays in addiction is not just about the risk the addiction gene conveys, but what role the environment plays is the expression of these genes. It is important to understand what genes are as well as what role an addiction gene plays in the development of addiction.

Understanding Genes: A Basic Primer

In simple terms, genes are functional components within our DNA structure that pass along hereditable traits from parent to offspring. Among these hereditable units that can be passed through generations include hair color, eye color, near-sightedness, blood type and pattern baldness among others. Research has shown that our DNA is 99.9% unique, but there is that 0.1% that is passed from generation to generation that are hereditable.

In regards to the concept of an addiction gene, it would be defined as one that makes someone more susceptible to addiction. Additionally, the presence of an addiction gene could also indicate that it would be harder for someone to cease a habitual behavior like drinking or smoking once they have started the behavior. In regards to the development of an addiction, the question lies in whether addiction in of itself is genetic and if it can be found in that 0.1% of hereditable genes.

The Argument You Hear

It is common to hear comments from people who will say ‘once you are an addict, you are always an addict’. There have been genetic theories, such as addictive inheritance that have been proposed and even theories that addiction cannot be cured. Whether or not these theories are based on scientific research, some of what is being proposed in these theories may actually keep addicts from getting the proper treatment they need because addiction is seen as being terminal.

There are arguments that suggest there may not be a physical representation of an addiction gene, but there are certain genetic predispositions for someone to react in certain ways when exposed to substances. For example, pain killers may have a genetic disposition to work well with certain individuals or not have any beneficial effect. These types of factors must also be considered when trying to answer the question if addiction is genetic. There has been research conducted that has identified specific genes that have a strong correlation in humans and addiction. Some examples of this specific genes include:

  • Gene DRD2 is more common is people addicted to alcohol or cocaine
  • Non-smokers are more likely to carry the CYP2A6 gene
  • For those who carry two copies of the ALDH*2 gene, the likelihood of developing alcoholism is rare

Additionally, there have been studies that inherited traits can play a role in addiction with certain races. For instance, Eskimos, American Indians, and Asians are all genetically predisposed to have a deficiency in the production of acetaldehyde, an enzyme important for alcohol degradation. These ethnic groups are hypersensitive to the effects of alcohol. Although the metabolic process is similar in all of these races, the addictive behavior is quite different. Eskimos and American Indians have a higher rate of alcoholism than Asians and are also predisposed for other addictive behaviors

However, if these studies are read into carefully, it will be observed that none of this research gives any concrete or definite proof or understanding to whether addiction has a genetic component. The information that has been provided may help in predicting the likelihood of addiction in people, but it does not provide researchers with a crystal ball in determining which people will be addicted to drugs and alcohol. It may be the case that if a family member is struggling with addiction that the odds increase that other family members will also experience substance abuse. However, it does not absolutely mean that a certain individual will become an addict when exposed to substances.

Are You Addicted To Drugs and Alcohol? It’s Never Too Late to Seek Help

In answering the question whether addiction is genetic, the simple answer is maybe. Scientists and psychologists are continuing to research the correlations between genes and addiction to see if there is any definitive proof such genes exist. While there may be evidence that shows that addiction may have genetic dispositions in certain populations, it can also be argued that genetics alone will not cause addiction in people. Whether you truly believe that addiction is a lifelong battle, or if you feel that addiction can be cured, it is important to know that it is never too late to seek treatment. While the effects and consequences of addiction are real, recovery from addiction is real.

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