The genetics of addiction

One of the challenges about addiction is the difficulty we have in putting it into a particular “box”. Is it a learned behaviour? is it down to environmental and social influences? Is it a disease?
I am most comfortable with calling addiction a bio-psycho-social condition and taking the complexities on the chin.
The genetics of addiction are beginning to unravel, though it is a not an easy area. Twin studies point towards a genetic component. Adoption studies show that if you are born to an alcoholic parent your personal risk of developing alcoholism is increased.
If both your parents are alcoholics, the risk goes up again. That risk stays with you, even if you are adopted at birth into a non-alcoholic family, suggesting that there is more than learned behaviour and social influence at play.
It appears that some of us are more vulnerable to addiction because of our genetic makeup with around ten genes being strongly implicated and dozens more being associated.
Believe it or not, we have genes for risk taking too, meaning some of us are more willing to try ‘dangerous’ drugs or drink in a riskier way than others.
We also know that there is an overlap across substances. If your twin is addicted to one drug, the chances are you will be vulnerable to that too, but you will also be more vulnerable to other substances. It’s often unhelpful to think in terms of the drug being the problem, it’s more accurate to think that ADDICTION is the problem.
In an abstinence service like ours we can’t quantify that risk, but experience suggests it is significant and we suggest abstinence to all our clients for illicit drugs and alcohol.
But, as I say, it is not simple, it’s a complex interaction between genes and environment with trauma in earlier life being a powerful predictor of later addiction.
Newspapers and some individuals tend to subscribe to the moral model of addiction which goes ‘addicts are bad people with no will power who do bad things’. This model has the advantage of being really simple and easy to understand, but it has a flaw. It is wrong.
The days of that model are numbered as we discover more and more about the complex interactions which generate addiction and open pathways to help those who suffer from addiction (and isn’t addiction true suffering?) find recovery.

Source: WiredIn Community Blog 21sxt Oct.2009

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