The answer to the question “Does genetics cause addiction” is not a simple one, and the scientific research that underlies it doesn’t allow for a yes-or-no answer. The causes for drug addiction depend on a variety factors, never just one, even within the person’s genetics; this is because the disease of addiction is often based on the specific circumstances of the addicted individual, such as environmental factors (economic status, education, etc), whether or not the person experienced trauma in the past, or the presence of any mental health disorder.
According to the National Institute om Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Unlike for some other diseases, there is no single gene that determines whether you will develop a problem with alcohol; instead many genes influence your risk for developing alcoholism, each of which only has a small impact.”
Scientists emphasize the fact that if someone is genetically predisposed to addiction, it doesn’t mean it will happen in his or her lifetime. Depending on various environmental factors, the individual may live a life without drugs at all even if they are vulnerable to addiction; however, the significance of a genetic disposition is that it results in a higher risk factor, so the individual should be aware that addictive drugs can impact them more than the average person who doesn’t have that genetic predisposition. Since reward seeking behavior is closely linked to dopamine, scientists study how neurons are essential to our brain’s “reward circuits,” and thus, unravel the mysterious of how some people have an increased vulnerability to the rewarding properties of drugs. The most interesting finding was that genetics also influence how the individual responds to treatment, as well as withdrawal and risk of relapse.
It’s also important to remember that environmental factors (one’s upbringing, neighborhood and education) and mental trauma can lead an individual to abuse drugs and fall into addiction, regardless of their genetics. This means addiction is often both a “nature and nurture” kind of disease, as causal factors are multi-faceted.
If you are aware that your family has a genetic disposition to addiction, it’s safer to be cautious about your drug intake and habits, as addiction is slippery slope that can quickly spiral into an addiction. Do research about your family history with drug use, and whether or not addiction/drugs has ever impacted their lives. Knowledge and awareness can go a long way in the prevention of addiction.
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