Drug or alcohol addiction can ruin your life. Your relationships can suffer. You could find yourself in unsafe situations as a result of trying to obtain illegal substances. You can lose your job, run into financial problems, and have mental issues.
But, how much of addictive behavior is genetic, and not as easy to stop as we assume?
There’s a lot of evidence that certain people may be predisposed to drug or alcohol addiction due to their genetics. Understanding genetics and the latest research can help us understand if we are genuinely predisposed to drug or alcohol addiction.
Humans normally have 46 chromosomes, with an estimated 20,000 protein-coding genes divided among them. These genes produce specific chemicals and reactions in the body.
If a gene is damaged, or if it doesn’t produce the proteins it’s designed to, you can have a genetic illness, disabilities, or other problems. For instance, the inability of one protein-producing gene to function correctly causes muscular dystrophy.
Natural genetic variations are the reason that we have different colors of eyes, hair, and skin than each other.
Because there are 20,000 protein-producing genes in the body, it will be a long time before science is clear on what each one does. However, it’s clear that the way the genes create proteins and regulate neurotransmitters, they have an impact on how our bodies react to medicine, drugs, and alcohol.
How Genetics Affect Drug and Alcohol Addiction
Our body has specific receptors that bind strongly with cannabinoids like marijuana, opiates like heroin, and nicotine, as well as a variety of other elements. In fact, our body produces neurotransmitters internally that behave like these substances.
This explains why drugs work – they bind to the same receptors in our brain as our natural neurotransmitters. The problem is that synthetic drugs are much stronger and more concentrated than our bodies natural processes, leading to a stronger brain reaction – a high.
Here’s where genetics come in. Depending on your genes, your brain will react more or less strongly to the introduction of drugs or alcohol. If your brain responds strongly, your high is more pronounced, and you’re more likely to seek the experience again. On the other hand, if it doesn’t, you get little or no high.
Also, your genes determine how much dopamine, or “reward chemical,” is released when drugs are introduced. The greater the amount of dopamine involved, the more “rewarding” drugs or alcohol feel, and the harder it will be to quit.
Do Genetics Excuse Drug Use?
Of course, genetics alone don’t make you an addict. You still have to choose to introduce the substances into your body before the reward reaction happens, and you may do it several or dozens of times before you become physically addicted.
If you have genetics that predisposes you to addiction, you’ll have a much harder time getting off drugs. In fact, you may not be able to do it alone. You may need help from an extended treatment program like the Prescott House Addiction Treatment Program.
Science is discovering that drug or alcohol addiction is not a simple matter of making poor choices, and recovery is not a simple matter of changing those decisions. Due to genetics, you may be fighting an uphill battle.
If you are, get help. Your life is worth it.