Drug and Alcohol Addiction Genetics
Are certain people predisposed to addiction?
As many people already know by now, addiction can take many forms – drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography – even chocolate is considered a legitimate addiction.
When it comes to the more common addictions such as alcohol or drugs, the decision to use these substances is a personal choice. These choices are influenced by multiple biological, familial, psychological and sociocultural factors. But, once a person starts using alcohol or drugs, the risk of developing alcoholism or drug dependence can be influenced by genetics.
The precise link between genetics and addiction is still a very much debated topic, but studies have clearly shown that 40 to 60% of predisposition can be attributed to genetics. The good news is that someone’s genetic makeup will not automatically send them spiralling into addiction. Remember that environment plays a large role in addiction risk.
The physiological and environmental causes of addiction vary, just as the addict’s choice of drug differs from person to person. Numerous surveys have shown that many people who abuse drugs and alcohol also tend to have a mental illness such as depression, and vice versa.
The link between addiction and mental illness
The link between addiction and mental illness is a complicated one, however. Researchers cannot agree whether substance abuse causes mental disorders, or whether mental disorders lead to substance abuse. People who suffer from mental illness also have a tendency to self-medicate, so there is most likely an overlap when it comes to the risk factors for both substance abuse and mental disorders.
Drugs and alcohol cause an abnormal surge in dopamine levels, activating the pleasure response. As substance abuse increases, the brain becomes exhausted by the artificial surges and produces less of its own as a result. People with naturally low levels of dopamine will come to depend on the drug due to the decreased deficiency of their own natural dopamine production.
Studies are increasingly showing that addiction rates differ greatly between men and women. In fact, the differences are so great that the results from ongoing studies are being incorporated into new treatment techniques.
It has been found worldwide that men have higher addiction rates than women, averaging around 2 to 1. Current research does however show that there are key differences in addiction between men and women. It is suggested that although women initially use smaller dosages than men, their usage soon escalates into addiction at a faster rate than men. For this reason, women are more at risk of relapsing than men are, because it is believed that women are naturally more prone to psychological distress, such as mood and anxiety disorders. They will then look to means of coping with day to day stresses.
Is predisposition to addiction attributed to genetics?
So then, while 40 to 60% of predisposition to addiction may be attributed to genetics, not all people may go on to become addicted, dependent or even give in to the impulses on a regular basis. Addiction is influenced by many external factors, including one’s individual response to the use of substances like alcohol or drugs, to name but two of the many addictions suffered by those around us. A family history of addiction may very well contribute to whether a child will go on to repeat the same patterns but studies have shown that genes are not the sole contributor to addiction. Many children grow up with and are exposed to addiction in all its forms but in spite of their family history, have gone on to become functional adults and lead happy lives.
– Karen Putzier for Twin Rivers Rehab
David is the Clinical and Development Director of Twin Rivers Rehab in South Africa and a UK Accredited Addictions Therapist with the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals UK. Articles/Blogs are written with the assistance of researchers and other specialists in the field of addiction and the recovery process