Do Your Genes Play a Role in Becoming an Addict?

Understanding why only one person in a family of four is an addict or alcoholic often prompts people to examine their genes, address environmental factors in childhood as well as other social influences during childhood and adolescence. The facts are that studies completed about genetics and addiction still require more research. Essentially addiction is a result of complex genes. For diseases that are linked to a single gene like sickle cell anemia, and others, geneticists can confirm that their disease was caused by mutations in a gene they inherited. The genes that are linked to addiction have yet to be definitively isolated.

What is known is that genetics, along with environmental influences, both play a role in whether or not a person becomes addicted to a substance. The disease of addiction is well defined as a chronic dysfunction of the brain system that involves reward, motivation, and memory. It’s about the way your body craves a substance or behavior, especially if it causes a compulsive or obsessive pursuit of “reward” and lack of concern over consequences.

Genes and Addiction

Your Brain and Addiction

The first portion of the definition relates to the human brain and genetics. Scientists are working to identify what genes affect the reward system of the brain. The second part of the definition considers behavior which is often a product of environment and social influences. It is certain that genes do play a role in addiction; however, the genes responsible for causing a person to become suspectable to addiction are not yet well defined, but progress has been made.

According to the authors of Harvard Health publication, genetic disposition of addiction can be identified concerning the brain’s reward system. It is in the reward system that people who become addicted to alcohol or drugs may have a deficit or even a virus.

 Drugs of abuse, act on the brain’s reward system, a system that transfers signals primarily via a neurotransmitter called dopamine…Alterations in gene expression can lead to changes in the function of the brain’s reward system, so a person is more or less likely to self-administer the drug. Researchers demonstrated that a type of small infectious agent (a type of RNA virus called human endogenous retrovirus-K HML-2, or HK2) integrates within a gene that regulates the activity of dopamine. This integration is more frequently found in people with substance use disorders and is associated with drug addiction.” (Harvard)

Analysis of a person’s environment and social influences more easily can identify the risks that someone may become an addict or alcoholic. The environmental factors include Homelife and family; Lack of parental supervision, parents or older family members who use drugs or misuse alcohol. School life and peers; Struggling in school or having poor social skills, availability of drugs at school, as well as growing in up in a poor community. When these environmental factors are in place, a person becomes more susceptible to addiction and or alcoholism.

Until the research identifies which genes are responsible for addiction better, scientists can only state that genes and environmental influences increase the likelihood of addiction occurring. Fortunately, the types of treatment that are available for addicts and alcoholics have increased and proven to help people overcome their addictions successfully. The program that is most recommended for substance abuse is evidence-based forms of treatment and therapy. Psychotherapy or talk therapy for individuals and in a group setting is also extremely therapeutic in helping addicts, and alcoholics recover. Holistic therapy methods, such as art therapy, yoga, and meditation, also improve the person’s quality of recovery.

For most successful recovering addicts and alcoholics, they attended a treatment center that offers these methods. Additionally, the 12-step program is how long-term recovering addicts and alcoholics maintain their recovery. 12-step meetings provide recovering alcoholics and addicts a community to be validated in, share their concerns, and receive support from others who have walked in their shoes.