There is a new trend in research leading people to believe that there is no genetic or biological factors to addiction, and that the issue is mostly social for addicts. One study sites the Vietnam war, pointing out that many soldiers used heroine when they were overseas, and if biochemical addiction were a thing, all of them would have continued the use upon returning to the US. The study seemed to indicate that those with healthy support systems did not continue using. Although it’s undeniable that having support is important for recovery, the study neglected to look at how many of the soldiers developed other problems such as alcohol abuse.
I will address the social component later, but first, I must address this idea that addiction is not biological/genetic. Genetic testing has advanced enough that a person CAN be test for 11 genes that contribute to addiction. However, the genetic risk never means it’s going to happen or it’s not. Let’s break this down a little though: there are several other factors that point to biology as a component of addiction. The first thing that stands out to me is the fact that everyone’s body responds to substances differently. For example, some people have a glass of wine, and they want to lay down and nap, while another person might have a glass of wine and feel such a relief that another seems like the only logical next choice. If we think further to nonaddictive substances, some people get sleepy when taking benadryl, while others “bounce off the walls”. Another piece of evidence here is that Asians have much lower addiction rates than other nationalities as many have an allergy to alcohol. I’ve mentioned your body’s reaction to substances, but that is not the only biological response to substances that is impactful.
e have to pay attention to brain changes when using a substance. No one starts off as a full blown drug addict, nor does anyone intend to go down that road when they first start experimenting with drugs. However, we know that people with significant addiction issues seem to experience brain changes that others may not, and for a lot of addicts, it’s a particular drug that brings them down/ Most people start out using alcohol and some people will say things like, “I used acid, ecstasy, etc., but it wasn’t until I started using _____ that I felt out of control”. If you aren’t convinced yet, we also have to look at an individual’s propensity for adventure. Those who are not comfortable with risk are not likely to become addicts, as drug use is a risky business. Most addicts get bored easily and need adrenaline rushes even after sobriety is established. Historically speaking, America would not exist if it were not for adventurers, thrill seekers, and/or people who dared to take the risk to explore our great nation. And if you look at history, addiction existed way back then, in the form of alcoholism and opium addiction. This drive for risk taking seems to be something many people are born with, for example, some toddlers will jump into a pool with no floaty while others wouldn’t dare. Finally, and most obviously, most addicts can trace addiction back within their family. Some come from a long line of addicts and some just have it intermittently throughout their family tree, either way, there seems to be heredity risk factor there. What may not be as obvious is the recent research in epigenetics. Briefly, epigenics says that our DNA changes based on our parents and grandparents EXPERIENCES, and a lot of our reactions, talents, fears, etc. come from someone else’s experience. Research also shows that people with naturally high tolerances to substances are more likely to develop addiction. Whether or not a person has a naturally high tolerance is absolutely physiological and may be another product of epigenics. Regardless, stats show that if both parents of a child are addicts, that child has a 50/50 chance of developing addiction.
Environment is definitely a major factor here, as most addicts will tell you that “everyone uses something”, which isn’t entirely untrue, but it’s more true for those who have surrounded themselves with other addicts. Some people come from environments where most of the family, neighborhood, or area uses drugs/alcohol excessively, and obviously that is going to increase the chances that the individual will go down that same path. In fact, when it comes to rehabilitating juveniles, one of the main challenges faced is having to send the juveniles back home to the same environment that contributed to the trouble in the first place. A similar problem exists with adults in rehab, although they clearly have more freedoms than juveniles most of the time. Then there’s the research that shows that many people are more attracted to criminal behavior and addiction in the first place when they haven’t felt accepted by society or their families. So ultimately, support and surroundings do play a major role, as does decision-making and a variety of other factors. My point here is more so that society likes to point fingers and neglects to take into consideration some serious uncontrollables. Even if we look at environment, what child has control over where they live? Who birthed them? Or what activities they participate in? It isn’t until our teenage years that we start to have more independent thought and small controls over what we do and who we are around, and often damage has been done much before that. Less judging and more encouraging would be in order it seems. Less condescending messages and more offers for help. We would do better as a population spreading more honey in general.