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THE ADDICTION GENE

Does your DNA determine a dangerous attraction to vice?

by Gwen Reyes-Amurao

NOVEMBER 2012

Nelson, 40, has a beautiful wife and three kids. He has an honest and stable job, and is able to provide for his family and give them whatever they need. But that wasn’t always the case. At age 16, Nelson was already hanging out with his much older cousins, drinking, smoking, doing drugs and gambling ‘til the wee hours of the morning. Because he was already dependent on these substances, he eventually found other friends to have “sessions” with, turning their home into a mini drug den. His wife took the kids, packed up their bags and left—swearing that they would not come back until he sobered up.


Alarming stats

In the Philippines, alcoholic beverages and cigarettes, even prohibited drugs have been extremely accessible to almost anyone who wants them, and the numbers prove it. TIME magazine reports Filipinos consume approximately 3.9 billion beer bottles within a year, while a study conducted by the Department of Health and the National Statistics Office—also known as the Philippine Global Adult Tobacco Survey—identifies about 17.3 million Filipinos aged 15 years old and up as tobacco smokers, with at least 13.8 million smoking daily. Alarmingly, statistics showed that there has also been an increase in the number of drug-related violations from 2009 to 2010—from 9,709 to 11,163, or 16 percent.

Psychiatrists define addiction as a chronic, maladaptive pattern of behavior characterized by compulsive and uncontrollable use of a substance where a person develops physical, behavioral and psychological dependence. Behavioral principles behind substance abuse include the positive reinforcing qualities they get from it, and the side effects of these substances, which help a person cope with daily challenges and difficulties. Sometimes even an underlying problem pushes them to addiction, which is why “Synopsis of Psychiatry” reports 76 percent of men and 65 percent of women who have been diagnosed with substance abuse or dependence had additional psychiatric disorders. These were antisocial personality disorders, anxiety disorders, and major depressive disorders.

But what causes these addictions? According to “Synopsis of Psychiatry”, a concept known as Behavioral Genetics explains that a person’s genetic component always interacts with environmental factors resulting to the development of a certain disorder.


It’s in the genes

Over the past couple of years, scientists have tried to identify a specific gene or genes responsible for making a person more likely to be addicted to a particular substance. In fact, in a genetic study conducted by the International Society of Computational Biology, not only one but 1,500 human addiction-related genes could be identified. Other studies revealed that a person’s addictive risk increases in proportion to the degree of genetic relationship with a relative who is also an addict. So anyone with an addicted father or mother is more likely to be an addict than someone who has sober parents.

In a study titled “Addiction Science and Genetics”, they observed that there was often grouping of individuals with addiction in their families—meaning more than one or two in one family—with higher rates in parents of affected individuals and those with a greater number of relatives affected. In some cases, the genetic aspect of the addiction is markedly noticeable when trying to withdraw from the substance itself. These individuals experience withdrawal symptoms far greater in severity than any other affected person.


Genetics vs. environment

For those who can’t wait to blame their addiction on their alcoholic father or their drug-dependent relatives, it’s actually not as simple as it may sound. Despite numerous studies confirming the presence of addiction genes, the environment still plays a large role in any form of addiction.

Psychologists believe the presence of an addictive personality wherein people who are born in families with someone with an addiction are more likely to also develop an addiction or be attracted to addicted individuals because of the influence on them. A young boy who sees his father smoke a pack of cigarettes a day will think that it’s okay for him to do the same, more so if he identifies his father as a role model.

They also attributed addiction to a concept known as codependence, wherein two or more people—often a couple—have a relationship that is primarily responsible for the maintenance of an addictive behavior. The usual scenario is that the partner of an addicted person is in denial about the other person’s addiction, and refuses to face reality, which helps foster the progression of the addictive behavior.

Some scientists say a person’s genetic makeup accounts for only 50 to 60 percent of one’s susceptibility to addiction, while the environment accounts for the rest. The University of Utah, Genetic Science Learning Center believes no one is born an addict. Just because your family has it, and you are more likely to have it, doesn’t mean you will. And just like in any inheritable trait, like blue eyes or brown hair, a person who carries an addiction gene may or may not exhibit the trait.


How can the addiction gene impact treatment options for addictions and other disorders? Find out in the November issue of HealthToday, out now in bookstores and newsstands.






























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