Addiction drops you in a dark prison of mazes, and everyone who falls into it comes out a different way. The path to addiction is different for everyone, which begs the question just what causes addiction anyway? Is it genetics, or is it environment? Just as addiction is very complex, so is the answer to this question.
Is Addiction Genetic?
Drug abuse comes from two places: the want to feel good or the want to suppress negative feelings. Typically, the drug will act like a natural chemical created in the brain to supplant its function, such as the THC from marijuana acts like anandamide which controls pain, appetite, memory, and mood.
There isn’t a single gene that is the cause of addiction. It is a combination of genes, which predispose a person to addiction, and having those genes does not guarantee addiction is the absolute result. The combination of genes is as complex as addiction itself. Those combinations can cancel each other out, or create a biological minefield of addiction disasters.
All addictive drugs have an effect on dopamine, which helps to control the reward and pleasure centers in the brain. These drugs allow the brain to generate a greater amount of dopamine than it would in normal situations thus the high of drugs. Dopamine is a key component on the biological side of addiction. People who have few dopamine receptors react positively to mood altering drugs, while those with high numbers of dopamine receptors reacted negatively. This is a strong argument for genetics being a key factor.
Addiction also runs in families, which would lead to the belief that is does have a strong genetic component. On the other hand, families generally have similar environments which counteract the purely genetic component. Tests on mice have shown that certain genetic combinations incline the subject to addiction. Since mice and humans share similar pleasure and reward pathways, this suggests that the groundwork of addiction is in our genes. Unlocking this potential does not lie in the biological realm.
Is Addiction Environment?
An individual’s environment gives opportunity for drug use, which should be explored as a factor in the disease. A person’s socio-economic surroundings will control how drugs can be introduced into their life. Stress and one’s peers are going to create excuses and chances to either take or not take drugs. Early physical and sexual abuse is also a major contributor to addiction, along with being a witness or victim of violence. The need to self-medicate to deal with the horrors of one’s past is not to be ignored. Tie in predisposition to enjoyment or dislike from a biological standpoint, and you either have a cocktail for disaster or a nontoxic situation.
The more access to non-drug rewards that a person has available reduces the chance of addiction. Conversely, a person who is in an environment that allows easy access to drugs will have a greater chance of addiction. If your genes make you more susceptible to cocaine addiction, but you never have the opportunity to try it you’ll never become addicted to it. Opportunity is a component of one’s environment which makes it the piece that starts the disease.
Vulnerability to addiction is a combination of factors that include biology and environment. The answer is not simple because the factors interplay so much in the final result. Genetics are the fuse, and environment is the match to igniting the fire that is addiction.