Addiction is multi-faceted and therefore has a mass amount of intertwining factors. Everything from socio-economic position to mental health concerns could influence an individual to develop an addiction.
One factor that is being increasingly explored is the genetic predisposition to addiction. Whole families affected by addiction, or people who otherwise seem to be fully functioning, save their addiction, have led researchers to look closer into how the building blocks of our bodies might set us up for addiction.
How Genes Affect Us
Genes are what determine the body’s basic cellular activities. Think of them like the step-by-step guide your body follows to accomplish everything. If your genes leave a crucial step off, that can lead to genetic diseases or predispositions.
The Link Between Genes and Addiction
At least half of a person's disposition to addiction can be linked to genetic factors. Various branches of study are dedicated to identifying specific genes and sequences of genes indicative of a higher risk of addiction.
Gene sequences contain instructions for creating proteins that perform your body's life functions. If the genes aren't set up in a way that best makes proteins, either not producing enough, creating too many, or creating faulty proteins, a person may be at a higher risk for addiction.
Natural protein variations can lead to differences in a person’s vulnerability to addiction. The coding in our genes determines these variations.
Researchers have identified a few genes associated with addiction, although more research is needed to pinpoint how they affect addiction. These include:
ADH1B and ALDH2: Play a role in the metabolism of alcohol
GABRA2 and CHRM2: Linked to Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
MAOA, SLC6A4, COMT and others: Linked to stress responses
It’s All In The Family
Addiction is often said to “run in the family.” People have 46 chromosomes in 23 pairs. When Baby Jane is born, she receives one of each pair from her father, Harold, and one of each pair from her mother, Julie. The random nature is what accounts for differences in siblings.
This parsing out of genes leads to diseases proliferating through a family. For example, if Harold has a history of addiction and contains genes that lead to protein deficiencies that worsen his condition, Jane may have those same genes and be at an increased risk. If both Harold and Julie have genes linked to addiction, Jane may be at an even higher risk.
You’re More Than Your Heritage
Genetics are said to account for 40-60% of a person’s risk for addiction. Multiple other factors are important, including environmental exposure and access to addictive substances. This is why of two children with the same genes, only one may be an addict. Exposure to traumatic early life experiences, family factors, inflammation, and psychiatric factors can all adversely affect addiction.
Ultimately addiction isn't a matter of being a pawn to your genes; other factors build up towards addiction that can be offset with the proper treatment.
Genes and Addiction
Much more research is required to determine the link between genes and addiction. However, once researchers can better see the effect genes have on addiction, they may be able to reverse engineer the connection and pinpoint people who have a higher risk of addiction.