Addiction to a substance or behavior is complex affecting the addictive person and everyone around them. We help every individual at their unique state of development, motivation, and readiness for treatment and recovery
Alcohol use and abuse does seem to run in families. Sometimes it will skip a generation. Dr. Paul Standal often hears that a father, mother or grandparent has problems with alcohol or other substances. However, the genetic component is very complex. There is no one alcohol or substance use gene that controls our behaviors towards substances.
Multiple genes play a role in determining a person’s risk for alcoholism or substance abuse. Research determines that genetic influences play about 50% in determining an individual’s vulnerability to abuse. There are, though, particular genes that have been found to reduce our vulnerability to abuse of substances, particularly alcohol.
Alcohol and drugs do damage to genes and the central nervous system (CNS). Success in recovery can depend on how much damage has been done as well as one’s innate ability to cope with stress. CNS symptoms include an inability to concentrate or think clearly, emotional numbing, reactivity, sleep disturbances, and physical discomfort.
The interplay of environmental and genetic factors also appears to play a big part in the causes of obsessive behaviors and substance abuse. For example, abandonment in early life and post-traumatic stresses are environmental issues that have significant consequences in later life, including increased use of substances to self-medicate or self-sooth. As we have learned more about the role genes play in our health, researchers have discovered that different factors can alter the expression of our genes. This field is called epigenetics. Scientists are learning more and more about how epigenetics can affect our risk for developing obsessions with substances, behaviors and alcohol.
The bottom line here is that, even if there may be a genetic vulnerability such as a congenitally reduced neurotransmitter like serotonin, no one is destined to become an addict. Life experience, environment and temperament play a powerful role in determining our obsessive relationship with behaviors and substances.
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