By ABCS RCM
When discussing physical and mental health the question of “nature versus nurture” is eventually asked. What diseases and conditions are pre-programed in a person’s DNA versus occurring due to lifestyle choices and behavior patterns? But, this is not the best way to look at this question.
A better way to discuss "nature or nurture" is to rephrase the debate as a question of “nature and nurture.” This is due to the fact that a person’s overall health is the result of dynamic interactions between genes and the environment. This makes it difficult to cleanly separate one over the other. For example, both genetics and lifestyle factors—such as diet, physical activity and stress—affect a person’s high blood pressure risk.
Research has already indicated that people’s genetic code determines most of their physical appearance. However, newer studies are linking behavior to genetics. How much of an individual’s behavior is linked to genetics? How many conditions like addiction are controlled by a person’s DNA?
What does the term genetics mean?
All people possess DNA which contains their genetic code and individual genes. These genes are the functional units of DNA that make up the human genome. Surprisingly, research on human genetics shows that after DNA sequencing, on average any two people share 99.9 percent of the same DNA. Yet, it is this 0.1 percent of DNA that has strong influence on people’s physical and mental health.
When mental health professionals are administrating treatments, they often find substantial variability in how individuals respond to these treatments. Part of that variability is due to a person’s genetic makeup. Genes influence the numbers and types of receptors in peoples’ brains as well as how quickly their bodies metabolize medications. Genetic variation even influences how well people respond to specific drug treatments.
What is an addiction?
A straightforward definition of addiction describes the condition as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking. This behavior continues even though if creates negative consequences for the individuals. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness, and creates long-lasting changes in the brain. Drug addiction is a medical illness caused by repeated misuse of a substance.
Some researchers argue that there are three distinct stages of addiction. They characterize addiction as craving (preoccupation), binge (intoxication) and withdrawal (negative) affect. Experts who study addiction have long argued that it is a disease of the brain, that affects people’s behavior, altering both the way they react to stress and their ability to control their individual actions.
Overall, addictions are a diverse set of common, complex diseases that are to some extent tied together by shared genetic and environmental factors. They are frequently chronic and often have period of relapsing behavior.
Is addiction a genetic trait?
According to newer research, genetics has a role in the development of an addiction. Some people are more likely to develop the disease than others. For this reason, some people develop prescription drug problems while others do not. Some research suggests that addiction can even run in families and are moderately to highly heritable. But, there is more to consider than just people’s genetics, due to the fact the environmental factors also influence addiction.
It is clear that both genetic and environmental variables contribute to the use of addictive substances. Family, adoption and twin studies reveal that an individual’s risk tends to be proportional to the degree of genetic relationship to a relative that has an addiction. The Virginia Twin Study revealed that in early adolescence the initiation and use of nicotine, alcohol and cannabis are more strongly determined by familial and social factors. These gradually decline in importance during the transition to young and middle adulthood. At this point in people’s lives, the effects of genetic factors are the strongest, declining somewhat as a people continue to age.
Addiction as a brain disease:
Over the last two decades, newer research has supported the conclusion that addiction is a disease of the brain. The brain disease model of addiction has yielded effective preventive measures, treatment interventions and public health policies to address substance-use disorders. However, some societal views still see addiction as a moral failing or personal choice. Yet, this outdated view is slowly changing.
Most diseases, like addiction, are incredibly complex. The variations among the many different types of genes likely contribute to a person’s overall level of addiction risk or resistance. While genetics play a major role in people’s risk for addiction, genes are not the only thing to consider. Unlike other genetic diseases, individual choice and environmental factors also play a crucial role in the development of an addiction. The influence of parents and people’s surrounding peer group generates benefits or risk. These environmental factors intermix with a person’s genetics to produce a variety of health outcomes.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, significant advances in neurobiology are helping researchers clarify the mechanisms that drive addiction. These underlying mechanisms create profound disruptions in people’s decision-making ability and emotional stability. Thankfully, researchers are learning more about the genetic, epigenetic and neurobiological bases of addiction. This is advancing the overall science of addiction and how professionals view the mental health condition.
About Providers For Healthy Living:
For questions about addiction and role of genetics in this disease, please contact the staff at Providers For Healthy Living. With four locations in central Ohio, they are available to treat a wide variety of behavioral and mental health conditions. They are guided by a well-established principle to have every patient feel more hopeful after interacting with a member of their staff.
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