Friday, September 6, 2013

Is Addiction Determined by our Genes?

Addiction is a problem that is still under close scrutiny by the medical and psychological community, specifically, the factors that may determine or contribute to an individual becoming an addict. One upcoming trial for example, conducted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse in the US, aims to try and find possible connection in an individuals genes that could increase the risk of them becoming an addict, and also whether certain traits in the brain are linked to the risk of addiction. When it comes to really understanding the causes of addiction, we are often only left with speculation, as there are a number of potential factors that can influence an individual both mentally and physically into becoming more susceptible to this problem. Does the key really lie in our genetic makeup?

Current Understanding of Addiction
First of all, it is helpful to understand what we really mean when we say ‘addiction’. An addict, is in essence, not in control of their actions to a large extent, specifically in reference to a substance or form of behaviour that may have developed into an addiction from an initial habit. Psychologists have recently put forward the concept of psychological addiction. This type of addiction might be an something such as an addiction to chocolate, gambling, sex, work, and so on. Essentially, anything that can induce a feeling of psychological dependency and causing tense feelings of guilt and despair could be referred to as such. The causes of psychological addictions are often psychological themselves, but that is not to say that physiological problems an individual may have won’t contribute to a physical addiction as well. Physical addictions are commonly understood to be a dependency on a substance, such as nicotine, alcohol, heroin, prescription drugs, and so on. Currently then, addiction is divided into substance addiction, and behavioural addiction. There may be a relation between the two however, as a study conducted last year points towards certain links between behavioural and substance addictions.

Genetic Links
There have been numerous medical and academic papers and books that seem to imply a firm link between genetics and the inheritance of susceptibility to addiction. The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment, for example, offers research that supports the proposition that addiction is a genetic problem. Furthermore, it is suggested that the genetic link varies dependent on the type of substance that forms the core of the addiction. Alcohol dependence, for example, is surmised to be a result of genetic hereditary that accounts for around 50% of the likely hood of addiction. Opiates on the other hand, especially cocaine, seem to have a higher chance of genetic heritability. While data on illicit drugs is not as profligate, prescription substances are another area that can offer some insight into the importance of genetics. Valium, for example, although a prescription substance, is often taken without a recommendation for recreation or to relive stress. Even should an addict manage to go through withdrawal and rehabilitation, genetic factors may contribute to a relapse. If we can fully understand these factors, preventative measures may be able to stop potential addicts falling prey to substance abuse entirely.

Other Causes
Of course, as the majority of the research shows, genetics are not the only factor at work when it comes to an individuals vulnerability to addiction. While we can certainly say that in some cases, such as alcohol, the danger of addiction rises considerably, this does not guarantee that such an individual will become an alcohol addict. This is where the problem becomes complicated, because there are a number of other influencing factors that in the right combination can cause a person to become an addict. Our current understanding of why we become addicted to substances such as nicotine, cocaine, heroin and so on, is based on our knowledge of how these substances work - how they affect the brain and body and so on. The real difficulty is understanding how they lead to addiction. As we are all different, and react in different ways given our social, economic, psychological and medical factors, that can all vary greatly, it can be very hard to pin down a single root cause. More trials, along with ongoing research and studies offer us hope that one day, we will be able to firmly identify, prevent and treat the problem more effectively.