Friday, June 17, 2011

Addiction: Is It in the Genes?

at 7:52 AM
When it comes to addiction philosophies, there are two general schools of thought: that addiction is a disease with genetic influencers, or that addiction is a condition caused by underlying mental, emotional or spiritual issues. In the case of the former addiction is treatable with detox, inpatient or outpatient treatment and general recovery support for life. In the case of the latter, it is presumed that treating the underlying cause will naturally treat the addiction. However, there is far more evidence to support the former than the latter. Addiction can be readily classified with other serious, life-threatening diseases such as cancer and research has shown that genetics do indeed play a role in who develops addictions and how severe those addictions become.

When you consider how genetics work, everyone is predisposed to addiction. That's because we all have the same basic pleasure and reward centers built into our brains. These centers were designed to release dopamine to make the body feel good when something pleasurable occurs. However, the brain creates associations with the environments and other situational data that existed at the time the pleasurable action occurred. The brain then creates neurological pathways that service the reward and pleasure sensation and the subsequent associations that are developed. These associations later cause a person to seek out ways to recreate these feelings over and over again. This is the true neurological nature of the disease of addiction, and all humans have this genetic propensity to develop addictions.

It is believed that humans evolved this process in order to better survive. For instance, if a particular food item tasted good, was easy to eat and provided sufficient energy, it would cause a release of dopamine in the brain and a contextual association would be made. Later, an early human who returned to the same type of environment would be reminded of that pleasurable action and seek it out again, thus standing a better chance of surviving than if these associations and innate drives were not produced. Today we take these processes for granted because most people have what they need and humans are educated enough to know logically what will serve for survival and reproduction purposes. Nevertheless, because these neurological pathways can and do exist, people can become addicted to all sorts of things: sex, eating, gambling, exercise, drugs and more.

Many addiction experts agree that addiction is indeed passed through the genes. However, it's not just one gene that is responsible for a greater propensity for addiction. Instead, a number of genes are responsible and only certain combinations of these genes result in addictive behaviors. For instance, a mother and father may not be addicts, but they can have three children where only one of them is genetically prone to addiction. This is because the mother had some parts of the genetic combination and the father others. These parts combined "correctly" to form addictive personality in only one out of three children. Ultimately, genes that contribute to addiction are passed on a luck-of-the-draw basis and may skip one or multiple generations.

Most families have some history of addiction or alcoholism. Some families might never speak of it and others are more open, but nearly all families experience addiction in some way. If someone in your family is struggling with addiction, you can get help for them right now with just one phone call.

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