Common misconceptions about drug addiction include the idea that alcoholism and addiction are purely genetic traits and that drug dependence and addiction are merely poor behavioral choices and not clinical diseases. But the reality is that the reasons for drug use vary significantly from person to person. And while genetics may be partly to blame, environment, social influence, health and many other factors can contribute to a drug addiction. However, understanding that genetics plays a role can help people avoid the other behaviors, places and people that will expose them to additional risk.
While no single gene is responsible for addiction or alcoholism, there are a number of gene traits that can lead to trouble when mixed with other behaviors and environmental stressors. In an article on the subject for NewsOK by Andrew Knittle, Dr. Glen Hanson – a prominent genetics researcher – is quoted as saying:
“I think it’s important to understand that because you’re vulnerable doesn’t mean it’s inevitable,” Hanson said. “It just says that you got to be careful and that if circumstances are right, the chances that you’ll get into difficultly are greater than most people.” (1)
This indicates that even people who have serious family histories of alcoholism and drug addiction can remain un-afflicted by these diseases provided they are aware of the risk involved and take precautions to limit this liability. However, it’s not always as easy as just removing yourself from people, places or environments that might trigger substance abuse, heavy drinking and the associated addiction that comes with it. According to blogger Natalie Hope Mcdonald, a person’s state of mind can contribute to their choice to use alcohol or drugs, and if addiction is a genetic trait the problem could progress quite rapidly:
“Someone who’s feeling disenfranchised may look to drugs and alcohol for escape. At least that’s according to a new report from the Center for American Progress in Washington D.C. In a shocking study, the center estimates that as many as 30 percent of LGBT people abuse substances as the result of stress that may be linked to discrimination. This is compared to less than 10 percent of the general population.” (2)
But these risks don’t just apply to the LGBT community: anyone in stressful situations with a genetic predisposition to addiction is more at-risk than the general public. Therefore, proper education early on is critical so that individuals can identify genetic risks and adjust their other behaviors and actions to help reduce the likelihood that this risk will blossom into a substance abuse or drug addiction problem.
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(1) Knittle, Andrew State of Addiction: Genetics Plays Role in Addiction, but aren’t Only Factor NewsOK
(2) Mcdonald, Natalie H. Addiction Linked to Bias PhillyMag.com 03/12/2012