The Cause of Addiction
Each year, there are more deaths and disabilities in the U.S. from substance abuse than from any other cause. In the United States alone, it is reported that roughly 18 million Americans have alcohol problems; 5 to 6 million have drug problems, and more than 9 million children live with a parent addicted to alcohol or illicit drugs. Drug addiction continues to be a growing concern, prompting medical and scientific research on a global scale into the possible causes of addiction and the various levels to which people become drug-dependent. This global issue continues to grow, prompting a rush to determine the cause in an effort to find a cure. Through research, doctors are learning of a link between the repeated uses of an addictive substance and how the human brain experiences pleasure, leading to further and more frequent use.
One popular theory suggests that addiction is a disease as opposed to a learned behavior. Understanding how genetics play a part in addiction lends to further understanding of how susceptible a person may be to becoming addicted. Because rats have many similarities to human biology, science once again turns to these creatures to study the link between genetics and addiction. Through a process called “otholog mapping”, scientists have discovered 2,343 items of evidence linking 1,500 human genes to addiction. When genetic coding is then paired on a molecular level, scientists are able to “see” the changes which occur during the transference of genetics to molecular pathways. According to addiction research scientist Li C-Y’s findings, “Five molecular pathways significantly enriched for all four different types of addictive drugs were identified as common pathways”. (Li C-Y, Mao X, Wei L, 2008).
The discovery of these molecular pathways is not a definitive proof of the role genetics may play in addiction, though it does help to solidify the theory that addiction is a disease. This is the theory that many professionals in addiction treatment have based rehabilitation programs and therapy on, which is the belief that an addict is one who suffers from a diseased brain. Because those with a diseased brain are unable to accept the unacceptable, and fail to realize that the continued use of drugs is not providing relief from the problem, it is the problem. Therefore, addicts are unable to make such decisions because their brains have been altered to prioritize use of the drugs, even above survival itself. The question still remains though, as to whether the disease of addiction is caused by genetics or by way of repeated use.
Further research suggests that addiction may be a gradual evolvement attributable to repetition of use, which becomes more likely to occur when the subject has a genetic history of addiction. The theory suggests that dependence on drugs of abuse develops only when the drug is administered in sufficiently large doses, at a high enough frequency, and over a long enough period of time. (Hyman, Science 273.5275, 1996). In a related study, lab rat testing has shown gradual dependency on nicotine, eventually leading to subjects self-administering the substance as often as 400 times per day. (Andreoli M, Tessari M, Pilla M, Valerio E, Hagan JJ, Heidbreder, 2003). However, these studies were measured against a control group of lab rats with no evidence of genetic addictions. This leads to questioning whether genetics plays a role in determining one’s susceptibility to becoming addicted, even with high frequency use because of those in the control group, many have proven able to use addictive substances on a regular basis, yet not show signs of withdrawal when the substance is no longer provided.
A lack of genetic addictive predisposition may explain why some are able to use addictive substances frequently and do not become addicted. Marijuana use, for example, has grown in popularity and ease of access. Sadly, it can be found...
References: Andreoli M, Tessari M, Pilla M, Valerio E, Hagan JJ, Heidbreder CA (2003),
Journal of Neuroscience, February 8, 2006•26(6):1872–1879
Erich Goode (2012). Drugs in American Society, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th editions,
McGraw-Hill, Chapter 3/6
Erickson, C. K., & Wilcox, R. E. (2001). Neurobiological Causes of Addiction.
Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 1(3), 7-22
Hyman, S. E. (1996). Shaking out the cause of addiction. Science, 273(5275), 611.
Li C-Y, Mao X, Wei L (2008) Genes and (Common) Pathways Underlying Drug Addiction
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