Genetic Predispositions to Addiction and Alcoholism

Dr. Purushothaman
January 12, 2014


Despite hard evidence to the contrary there are still a considerable number of people who believe that addiction and alcoholism are not clinical diseases, and that genetics play no role in a person's propensity to become addicted to a substance. Instead, these people believe that addiction is simply the result of a severe lack of self control. If you or someone close to you has ever battled addiction, then you know first-hand that this is not an accurate  or appropriate response to a disease that kills thousands and affects millions every year. In fact, according to Addictions and Recovery, an addiction public service website, children of addicts are 8 times more likely to become addicts themselves than children of non-addicts. This indicates that genetics indeed play a critical role in the development of addiction or alcoholism.
Ultimately, everyone is genetically predisposed to addiction. This is because the physiological mechanisms that lead to addiction are the same for every person  even for those who have never been exposed to any type of drug or alcohol. Addiction is caused when an action or substance is perceived as pleasurable in the brain. Because the brain attempts to recreate those pleasurable experiences by sending out signals along neurological pathways that urge a person to use the substance or take similar action again and again, addiction can form when those neurological pathways become more permanent. This is why addiction is correctly categorized as a disease it is a clinical, neurological process that left unabated is 100% fatal.
In theory the "addiction process" evolved in order to stimulate humans to constantly seek out biological functions that were imperative to survival. For instance, if a human ate a food item that was perceived to be delicious and possibly afforded some additional benefit such as energy from sugar, then it's in the best interest of the person to seek out that food item again and again. However, as civilized humans we don't necessarily need these processes to survive any more. But because the mechanism works the same, we can easily become addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, food gambling  or virtually anything that triggers the reward and pleasure center in the brain.
But when it comes to the biology of humans, some are indeed more genetically predisposed to addiction than others. However, contrary to popular belief there isn't one single gene that is responsible for this increased likelihood of addictive disorder. Instead, numerous genes are responsible and people who suffer from addiction the most often have a higher amount and more diversified spread of these genes. In reality, genetic predisposition to addiction is more about luck  or lack thereof  than anything. This is why addiction can skip generations or appear in families with relatively little addictive history.
Nevertheless, a great deal about addiction and genetics remains unknown. For instance, many studies readily cite data that indicates that people with addictions often have family members who also suffer from this condition. However, if you look far enough and deep enough into practically any family, you'll find other instances of this disease. This is because addiction is in reality a human condition  not a genetic one or one that is only passed from afflicted family members. The fact of the matter is that regardless of your genetic makeup, if you abuse substances consistently, you place yourself in grave danger of becoming addicted. And because addiction is a lifelong, incurable disease, the faster you get help for a problem the better the chances will be that you'll respond favorably to treatment.

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