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Is There a Gene for Addiction?

Is There a Gene for Addiction?

“…there isn’t just one “addiction gene”, but rather a panel of 5 to 11 genes associated with alcohol and drug abuse… if an individual is found to have a genetic predisposition across these 11 genes, is he or she predestined to be – or at least, at very high risk – of being an addict? STAY TUNED.” ~Dr. Akikur Mohammad, M.D., The Anatomy of Addiction: What Science and Research Tell Us About the True Causes, Best Preventive Techniques, and Most Successful Treatments As is the case with any chronic, progressive disease, there is always interest in what CAUSES various types of addictions. The hope is that if the causal factors are identified, more effective treatment – or even complete prevention – won’t be far behind. Scientists in the field of addiction research have known for years that a person’s individual genetic history plays the largest role in whether or not that person is susceptible to drug addiction. It is estimated that 50% to 60% of that risk is due to inherited factors. With certain substances that risk is even higher. Genetic factors determine up to 75% of the likelihood that a person will begin smoking, 60% of their risk of addiction, and 54% of their ability to quit.

Several Other Factors Come into Play When It Comes to Addiction

But genetics only tell part of the story when it comes to a person’s susceptibility to addiction. Besides genetics, other factors that influence that propensity include:

  • Environment– these are the existing social and economic circumstances that a person is exposed to, such as:
    • Poverty
    • Availability of drugs
    • Changes in social status
    • Peer pressure
    • Employment status
    • Occupation
    • Cultural attitudes within the community
  • Individual risk factors– these are the factors that are unique to the individual and their family situation, such as:
    • Childhood exposure to alcoholism or drug abuse
    • Child abuse or neglect
    • Extreme changes in the family situation – i.e. divorce, death, etc.
    • Academic stress and/or poor performance
    • Social deprivation or alienation
    • Causal or co-occurring mental conditions such as clinical depression, generalized anxiety, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
    • Suicidal behavior
  • College-age risk factors– college students away from home can be subjected to a whole new list of risk factors, including:
    • Separation anxiety due to being apart from family, friends, and a familiar environment
    • Increased peer pressure
    • A relaxed attitude towards the acceptability of drugs
    • Greater availability of drugs
    • Lack of parental supervision
    • Heightened academic pressure

Combined with a genetic predisposition, these other factors can greatly increase the risk of alcohol or drug abuse leading to dependence and addiction. Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug abuse says, “Understanding the complex interactions between the factors involved in drug abuse and addiction is critical to their effective prevention and treatment.” But Dr. Volkow also reminds us that a propensity to abuse alcohol or drugs does not necessarily determine that person’s destiny. There are still actions that have to—or DON’T have to—happen before the risk potential truly matters. FIRST, the individual has to choose to experiment with alcohol or drugs. THEN, they have to use the substance repeatedly over a period of time. Only at that point will be a person’s genetic vulnerability begin to come into play.

Will We Ever Discover THE Gene Responsible for Addiction?

Most experts believe that we will never find a single addiction gene. As is the case with other chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, or hypertension, a person’s vulnerability to addiction is complex. A number of factors determine the chances that someone will become an addict at some point in their lives, including both inherited (genetic), environmental, and behavioral factors. In their book Genetic Influences on Addiction: An Intermediate Phenotype Approach, authors James Mackillop and Marcus Munafo  summed up prevailing opinion, saying, “…it has increasingly become apparent that variance in alcohol consumption/risky drinking is best attributable to the combined influence of MANY genes, with the portion specifically attributable to any SINGLE gene vanishingly small, perhaps as little as 0.1%.” In the end, it matters less WHY a person becomes addicted and matters more WHAT should be done to help arrest the progress of the disease and reduce the horrific negative effects it can have on the lives of the substance abuser and their entire family. If you or someone you care about is struggling with a substance abuse disorder manifesting as drug addiction or alcoholism, you and your family can get the help and hope you need by contacting Northpoint Recovery in Boise, Idaho–the premier drug and alcohol rehab program in the entire Inland Northwest—proudly serving, Idaho, Washington State, Wyoming, Utah, and Montana. Northpoint Recovery utilizes an Evidence-Based Treatment strategy that attacked the ease of addiction on multiple levels – physical, emotional, mental, nutritional, and spiritual – to maximize the chances of a successful and long-lasting return to sobriety and sanity.