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Addictive behavior towards certain substances such as drugs, alcohol and tobacco is linked to certain genes. Some people are much more vulnerable due to their genetic makeup.

Addiction is a health menace that spares no gender, race, or community. Unfortunately, we all know of someone who is battling the problem. He is probably a former co-worker who cannot hold on to any job despite his qualifications. She is a favorite niece who dropped out of college and now spends her time making trips to the rehab center. He was a promising artist, like his father. But like his father, he chose drugs. What do you think went wrong? Poor coping skills? A dysfunctional household? A chink in their moral fabrics? Or was it a weak mind that led these people to hurtle themselves down the road to self-destruction?

You might need to probe deeper to find the root cause because some genes can also make a person more vulnerable to an addiction than another person in a similar life situation but without the suspects in his gene pool. Is a loved one an addict? Do not write him off; he probably can't do much about his condition.

The Genetic Connection Of Addiction

Scientific studies have linked drug addiction to genes. According to one study, genetic factors are 40 to 60 percent responsible for the drug addiction. Environmental factors contribute to the remainder of the vulnerability in individuals. Studies on twins, adopted children, and family members who share only a few genes show that alcohol and tobacco (nicotine) addictions tend to co-occur. According to this and other studies, a set of common genes is responsible for this co-occurrence; a person with such a genetic makeup is vulnerable to any kind of addiction, not just alcohol and nicotine.

Genes work to increase an individual's vulnerability to addiction in many different ways. To understand how genes work, it is worthwhile to first examine the nature of addiction. The subjects of addictions include drugs, nicotine, food, video games, medicine, and alcohol. Pathological gambling is an addictive behavior. Millions of people are exposed to one or more of these temptations every day. Some people are even required to consume certain potentially addictive substances, like some medicines, for prolonged periods of time, but not everyone develops an addiction.

Neurobiological Pathways And The response To Addictive Substances

Whether a person becomes addicted to a substance depends on how he or she perceives and reacts to it. These are, in turn, determined by specific neurobiological pathways that control behavior, susceptibility or resilience to various stress factors, and the reward responses. For instance, certain genetic variations influence novelty-seeking and impulsive behavior. Individuals with such behavioral traits tend to seek out addictive substances attracted by the promise of "high".

Addiction is characterized by repetitive use of certain substances even though they are harmful. An individual feels compelled to keep on consuming a harmful substance if it tickles the pleasure center of his brain. This is the reward response. Some people are genetically inclined to have reduced reward responses to one or more addictive substances, so they do not feel motivated to keep up the use.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Bevilacqua, L. & Goldman, D. (2009). Genes and Addictions. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 85(4). p.359-361
  • Ducci, F. & Goldman, D. (2012). The Genetic Basis of Addictive Disorders. Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 35(2). p.495-519
  • Goldman, D. et al. (2005). The genetics of addictions: uncovering the genes. Nature Reviews Genetics. 6(7). p.521-532
  • Schlaepfer, I. et al. (2008). The genetic components of alcohol and nicotine co-addiction: From genes to behavior. Current Drug Abuse Reviews. 1(2). p.124-134.Photo courtesy of lwpkommunikacio via Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/lwpkommunikacio/16904900381
  • Photo courtesy of Macro-roni via Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/fallkniven/14342954637

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