October 4, 2012

The Role of Genetics in Addiction

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additcion and genetics

“My Father was an Alcoholic”

With the science of genetics revealing things about ourselves that we never knew, many studies are now focusing on the part that genetics play in addiction. Are the children of addicts, for example, more likely to develop an addiction? Are some people more “predisposed” to addiction than others? Let’s look at some of the research.

No One “Addiction Gene”

One study from the University of Utah states that “genetic susceptibility to addiction is the result of the interaction of many genes”. There is no one gene that can be singled out as “the addiction gene”. When scientists look for “addiction genes”, they are essentially looking for identifiable biological differences that make someone more or less vulnerable to addiction. Yes, social and environmental factors contribute to addiction risk. But it is increasingly apparent that genetic factors weigh in heavily, too.

A Family Trait?

If addiction exists in the family, the question is – can that trait be passed down from parent to child via genes? Yes, but whether or not that shared gene results in addiction, is not predictable. Even if specific genes are identified in a family pedigree as the “addiction genes”, and the presence of those genes creates a “predisposition” for addiction, the fact is that not everyone who carries those specific genes will become addicts. This is where social and environmental factors may come into play.

Mice that Drink

In a study with mice, genetic alterations affected addiction traits. For example, mice mutated with a defective “Pre2” gene drank 3 times more alcohol than those without the altered gene. Similarly, mice with the “Creb” gene “knocked out” were less likely to develop morphine dependence.

How Genes Can Help

Why, you may wonder, does it really matter “why” people become addicts. Don’t addiction intervention services only concern themselves with the question of “what do we do now” ? How do we break the cycle of addiction? How do we replace old addictive behaviors – regardless of how they came to be – with new recovery behaviors? The answer here is another “ Yes. And no”. Yes, getting well is the primary focus. But addiction intervention services can be greatly affected by emerging genetic research — not only in the understanding of root causes of addiction, but also in the development of new pharmaceutical products that may target the “addiction genes”.

The Good News: “Genes are Not Your Destiny”

Despite evidence regarding the strong role of genetics in addiction, many people who have come from addicted families remain unaffected and live healthy, substance-free lives. Family history influences, but does have to “determine your fate”.

If you’re dealing with addiction, the question of what role genetics may have played in getting you to this point is not the issue right now. Seeking help is. There are many addiction intervention services available to you, including those offered by Right Turn, “A Creative Place for Recovery”. Our addiction specialists would be happy to answer any questions you may have, and to help guide you toward recovery.

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