If you’re battling with an addiction, you may wonder what caused it. You may be specifically wondering whether or not there’s a genetic component to addiction, especially if you have anyone else in your family tree who also has or had an addiction.
The truth is that addictions have many contributing factors, but genetics do appear to be one of them. Other causes also play a significant role in developing an addiction. The providers at 2nd Chance Treatment Center explain more about what causes addictions.
The brain’s reward system
Drugs that are abused, especially opioids, are particularly targeted to give you a dopamine hit. Dopamine is a hormone that activates your brain’s reward system. But as anyone with addiction knows, the effects of dopamine are short-lived, and soon your brain needs more.
The way your body handles dopamine is partially determined by genetics. However, other factors can also influence the way your body reacts to dopamine; a major one is your environment. Another study found that a type of virus can integrate within a gene that regulates the activity of dopamine. This type of genetic change is more common in people who have addictions, suggesting that at least some people are more likely to develop an addiction.
Multiple genetic factors
There are still many things that scientists are learning about what causes addiction, including the role of genetics. They already know that not only is there a genetic component to addiction, but that multiple genes are involved. However, every individual case of addiction is different. Even when two people are addicted to the same substance, different genes can be involved.
Some of the genetics involved in addiction include:
- Those who are addicted to cocaine and alcohol may have a genetic variant (known as the A1 allele) that affects the expression of the dopamine receptor
- Mice without the serotonin receptor gene Htr1b are more likely to seek out cocaine and alcohol
- Mice with lower levels of neuropeptide-Y consume higher amounts of alcohol
- A mutation of the Per2 gene in mice increases alcohol consumption three-fold
Having these genetic changes doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to be an addict or that there’s nothing you can do. These changes are just seen more often in people with addictions.
Stress changes your hormone expression
When it comes to addiction, think of the addict as being like a dry stack of firewood. They may have the genetic tendency to be more likely to drink or use drugs but may remain able to resist it for many years. Then, a highly stressful event, such as a job loss or the death of a significant other, acts as the kindling to set the whole stack ablaze.
This isn’t just a situational excuse for substance abuse. When you go through a tremendously stressful experience, your body releases large amounts of steroid hormones called glucocorticoids. These stress hormones change the way that your genes function, which is often enough to trigger addictive behavior (or a relapse for someone in recovery).
There’s not a quick and easy answer to the question of whether or not genetics cause addiction. Scientists believe there’s a relationship between the two, but your genes alone don’t determine whether or not you’ll become addicted.
If you’re dealing with an addiction, you can learn how to become free from it, regardless of whether or not you have a genetic tendency toward it. We can help. Call the providers at 2nd Chance Treatment Center at any of our locations today, or request an appointment online.