Addiction and Genes
There has traditionally been a great deal of debate around addiction and genes. One approach seems to imply that linking addiction to genes means addicts won’t take responsibility for their addiction. In turn, it will be harder to overcome.
Another school of thought is that addiction is fully under the control of the addict. This means he or she always has the ability to stop with the right emotional support. These two sides have sometimes been very black and white but this has become outdated.
Addiction, Genes and External InfluencesToday, we are moving toward a more integrated and realistic view of addiction. While it’s important to acknowledge the role that your genes can play in your susceptibility to addiction, environmental influences also contribute. Treatment might include a drug that targets the biological difference while counselling and support help the addict to take action as well.
What is an Addiction Gene?The premise of an addiction gene does not refer to a gene that makes it inevitable you will become addicted. Rather, it is a biological difference that makes you more or less likely to become addicted.
It refers more to a vulnerability to become addicted. It could also mean that it is more difficult for an addicted person to quit. In fact, it may even mean that withdrawal symptoms are more intense if they do manage to quit initially.
How Addiction Genes Affect YouWhen you think of addiction genes, it is easy to think it’s a gene that relates to becoming more addicted. But interestingly enough, the opposite can be true. Your genetic makeup can make it harder to become addicted.
It might mean that you try a certain drug and feel sick from it or don’t feel any desire to use it again. In contrast, a person more likely to become addicted may feel an intense craving for that drug right after trying it. The key point here is that these genes influence but don’t dictate your path in terms of whether or not you become addicted to a substance.
Addictions Within the FamilyWhere there is an addiction gene, we also have to look at inheritance. We have already known for some time that children of addicted parents are more likely to suffer from addiction.
Having now identified a number of different addiction genes, we’re closer to looking at how these are inherited. But it is far from simple because addictions do not stem from just one gene. Instead, multiple genes couples with your environment interact to influence your likelihood of becoming addicted.
Different Genes in Different AddictsContrary to what some people believe, identifying an addiction gene does not mean every addict has this gene. No two addicts will necessarily have the same combination of addiction genes. Nor, in fact, will they have the same environmental risk factors although we have identified common threads such as abuse.
Targeting Genes With MedicinesHaving identified addiction genes, the next step is targeting these genes with medicines that could modify the activity of the gene. This would allow us to suppress an addiction gene, thus bringing stability to the signals or paths in the brain.
In an ideal world one day, we may have successful genetic testing to allow us to find out the genes in each patient. Then, we could offer the best medicine to target those genes. But for now, the fact we have identified genes as important in treating addiction is progress.